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COVID-19 response memo, 7/23/20

Marion County to Enact New Restrictions After Surge in COVID-19 Cases

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COVID-19 response memo, 7/23/20

Happy Thursday. Please note new section below - a calendar of important dates including upcoming study committee meetings. Local, state, and federal highlights in today’s memo include:

  • Marion County to Enact New Restrictions After Surge in COVID-19 Cases

  • Mnuchin Says GOP Has 'Fundamental' Deal On $1T Coronavirus Relief Package

  • Republicans Scrap Trump’s Demand for Payroll Tax Cut As They Cobble Together Draft Coronavirus Bill

  • Senate GOP to Release Covid-19 Package

  • Two Senators Who Asked for AG Opinion Say They Won’t Sue to Stop Holcomb’s Mask Mandate, Democrat AG Nominee Issues Statement

  • Lawmakers Start Debating Possibilities For a Virtual or Hybrid 2020 Legislative Session

  • With Shutoff Moratorium Ending, Utilities Must Offer Payment Plans - Here's How to Sign Up

  • Trump Cancels GOP Convention Plans in Jacksonville

  • US Passes 4 Million Coronavirus Infections

  • Trump Likely to Sign Executive Orders on Drug Pricing Friday

  • Pence to Talk About Reopening Colleges During Pandemic in Visit to Indianapolis Friday

  • Jobs Report

  • Insurers Fight Virus Payouts

  • White House Details Strategy to Assist Nursing Homes

  • Important Dates

  • Daily Numbers

    Let’s dive in.


Marion County to Enact New Restrictions After Surge in COVID-19 Cases


Breaking:  Per the Indianapolis Business Journal, due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, Marion County will implement new pandemic-related restrictions on Friday at 5 p.m., Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett announced Thursday. The restrictions will prevent in-person class instruction at schools until at least Aug. 5. They will limit social gatherings to 50 people, other than indoor religious ceremonies, which can operate at up to 50% capacity. Outdoor services can continue without restrictions.

Among other changes:

– Bars and nightclubs will close through at least Aug. 12.

– Restaurants will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity, and all restaurants must close between midnight and 5 a.m.

– Personal services such as hair salons and nail parlors will be by appointment only.

– Gyms will be allowed to operate at 25% capacity.

– Sporting events must limit spectators to 25% of occupancy.


Mnuchin Says GOP Has 'Fundamental' Deal On $1T Coronavirus Relief Package


Breaking: The White House and Senate Republicans on Thursday reached a "fundamental agreement" on a coronavirus package, according to a top negotiator.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — after a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows — said staff were now trying to finalize text of the agreement, which is expected to be released as a group of bills instead of one piece of legislation.

Asked what the outstanding sticking points were, Mnuchin pointed to needing to finalize and sign off on text. The topline of the bill, according to Meadows, will still be around $1 trillion, a cap that both McConnell and the White House had sought to impose on the opening Republican offer amid angst within their caucus about the impact the roughly $3 trillion already appropriated by Congress could have on the country's debt.

The forthcoming GOP proposal will include a second round of stimulus checks for individuals who make up to $75,000 per year. It's also expected to end a $600-per week plus-up of federal unemployment benefits and instead replace it with a roughly 70 percent match of a worker's wages before they were laid off. The 70 percent match would last through the end of the year under the Republican bill. (The Hill)


Republicans Scrap Trump’s Demand for Payroll Tax Cut As They Cobble Together Draft Coronavirus Bill


What’s New:  Senate Republicans have cast aside one of President Trump’s key demands from a new coronavirus stimulus package, refusing to include a payroll tax cut in their opening offer to Democrats, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is aiming to unveil on Thursday.

In recent days, Trump had insisted that he might not sign an eventual bill if it did not include the tax cut, but the plan was unpopular with Republicans. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on CNBC Thursday morning that the White House still liked the idea and would pursue it in potential future legislation. “It won’t be in the base bill,” Mnuchin conceded.

He said the decision was made to instead focus on sending another round of stimulus checks to Americans, because that approach would put money in people’s pockets more quickly. (Washington Post)


Senate GOP to Release Covid-19 Package


What’s New: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is set to release the joint Senate/White House proposal for the next round of Covid-19 response legislation this morning. Several Senate Republicans met with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows Wednesday night. Reports indicate the Senators and the White House had mostly resolved their outstanding issues. Senate Republicans and the White House had struggled in recent days to agree on a series of proposals, including a payroll-tax cut and $16 billion new funding for Covid-19 testing. 

The measure will also include greater than $100 billion for schools, with some of that money available only to K-12 schools that plan to physically reopen. It remains unclear whether a payroll-tax cut or deferral will be in the proposal. GOP lawmakers also have yet to coalesce around a policy regarding supplemental unemployment benefits, which expire July 31 and will likely become a hot button issue in broader negotiations with congressional Democrats.

Notes on the upcoming Senate Republicans’ proposal can be found here.


Two Senators Who Asked for AG Opinion Say They Won’t Sue to Stop Holcomb’s Mask Mandate, Democrat AG Nominee Issues Statement


What’s New: Two of the state senators who asked the attorney general for a legal opinion about whether Gov. Eric Holcomb has the authority to enforce a statewide mask mandate say they do not plan to file a lawsuit to challenge the measure.

Late Wednesday, Attorney General Curtis Hill, a  Republican, said in an opinion—issued at the request of five Republican senators—that state law doesn’t give the governor specific authority to require face coverings or to create penalties for failing to wear a mask. Hill also said that Holcomb should call a special session if he wants to implement a mask requirement and impose a penalty.

That would seem to open the door to a lawsuit, although Hill—who will leave office at the end of this year after failing to earn the GOP nomination for a second term—can only issue advisory opinions. And Sen. Jim Buck of Kokomo, one of the lawmakers who sought the opinion, said he doesn’t want to get into a “legal squabble” with the governor.

Sens. Buck, Blake Doriot of Syracuse, Aaron Freeman of Indianapolis, Mark Messmer of Jasper and Jim Tomes of Evansville had asked Hill to weigh in with an “official opinion” regarding Holcomb’s authority to order a mask mandate and make it a criminal offense not to wear a mask.

Freeman said he never thought a lawsuit was in play when the senators requested the opinion. (Indianapolis Business Journal)

Today, Democratic nominee for Attorney General, Jonathan Weinzapfel, released a statement regarding current Attorney General Curtis Hill’s advisory on the Governor’s mask mandate. In the statement, he supported Governor Holcomb’s mandate stating, “With the growing number of coronavirus cases across the state, I believe that Governor Holcomb made the right call … As Indiana’s next Attorney General, there will be times I will disagree with state leaders on issues, but this isn’t one of them.” The full release can be found here.


Lawmakers Start Debating Possibilities For a Virtual or Hybrid 2020 Legislative Session


Indiana lawmakers who are part of a committee to decide where, when and how their work can resume during the COVID-19 pandemic outlined early plans and questions for the 2021 legislative session during a meeting on Thursday.

And the reality of the ongoing pandemic made itself clear from the start. Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, appeared for the meeting via Zoom rather in person—the only lawmaker on the committee to do so. Ford later explained he stayed home out of an abundance of caution when he learned he was in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Sen. Chris Garten, R-Scottsburg, said he would not wear a mask at the start of the meeting because the person nearest him was “15 or 16” feet away—that despite a citywide mask requirement for anyone in a public building who is not in a room alone. All other committee members wore a mask.

The committee’s co-chairman, Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, said the purpose of the Legislative Continuity Committee’s first meeting was to lay the foundation for addressing what’s to come. He led the committee through a wide-ranging discussion that looked at several “if-then” scenarios, including how to structure the 2021 legislative session and how to hold the Legislature’s Organization Day—the ceremonial start to the legislative session in November—under a variety of pandemic circumstances.

At issue is how to meet obligations under the Indiana Constitution that lawmakers meet in 2021—and meet at the capitol building—as well as the need to let the public participate in the process. (Indianapolis Business Journal)


With Shutoff Moratorium Ending, Utilities Must Offer Payment Plans - Here's How to Sign Up


What’s New: Last month, the state agency that governs utility companies decided they must offer at least six-month-long extended payment plans for customers struggling to pay their bills in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since then, the state's major utilities have released the plans they will offer to customers  — and they vary widely.  

Some utilities are holding fast to the six-month requirement, while others, including Indianapolis Power & Light and Citizen's Energy, are offering payment plans as much as twice that length. One utility, Duke Energy, is extending the moratorium on disconnections by a month longer than the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission ruled.  

The current end to the disconnection moratorium is set at August 14, after being extended from its previous end date by six weeks. It's important, consumer advocates say, to set up a payment plan before this August 14 deadline so that customers aren't saddled with a pile of bills right off the bat. (Indianapolis Star)


Trump Cancels GOP Convention Plans in Jacksonville


President Trump said Thursday that he would cancel the GOP convention events in Jacksonville, Florida, in August, saying it wasn’t the right time due to the coronavirus. Trump said the official nomination business would still take place in Charlotte, N.C. (The Hill)


US Passes 4 Million Coronavirus Infections


The United States surpassed 4 million confirmed coronavirus infections on Thursday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, a grim milestone that shows just how badly the country is losing the fight against the virus.

Despite the efforts of President Trump and members of his administration to paint a positive picture several months into the crisis, the U.S. is struggling to contain a virus that is now spreading widely across large swaths of the country.

Hospitalizations are spiking, the positivity rate is rising and multiple states are reporting daily records on the number of cases and deaths. The U.S. reported more than 1,100 deaths two days in a row this week, the highest since late May, and more than 143,000 people have died nationwide, according to Johns Hopkins figures. (The Hill)


Trump Likely to Sign Executive Orders on Drug Pricing Friday


President Trump is likely to sign executive orders on Friday aimed at lowering drug prices, elevating a key issue for voters in an election year. 

While the plans could shift at the last minute, some GOP lawmakers have been invited to a presidential event on drug pricing on Friday at 3 p.m. at the White House in the South Court Auditorium to make the announcement, according to an invitation obtained by The Hill. 

The exact details of the orders remain unclear, but sources say one order is likely to include a version of a proposal to reduce some U.S. drug prices by tying them to the lower prices paid in other countries. (The Hill)


Pence to Talk About Reopening Colleges During Pandemic in Visit to Indianapolis Friday


Vice President Mike Pence will return to his home state Friday to talk with higher education leaders about safely reopening schools amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to his office.

Pence will meet with college and university leaders at Marian University, a small private school in Indianapolis. The vice president and Second Lady Karen Pence will travel to Indiana Friday and return to Washington, D.C., later that evening. A time for the event has not been announced.

Pence’s visit comes as Indiana’s colleges and universities are beginning to welcome students back onto campuses. Most of the state’s schools do have plans to resume in-person instruction, though many have amended their schedules to limit student travel and are developing robust protocols to test students for COVID-19. With their close quarters and communal living, college campuses are particularly susceptible to spread of the virus. (Indianapolis Star)


Jobs Report


Filings for weekly unemployment benefits rose for the first time in nearly four months as some states rolled back plans to reopen their economies. The Department of Labor reported this morning that unemployment claims rose to 1.4 million for the week ending July 18. The increase in new applications is an indication of a slowing of improvement in the U.S. labor market.

While well down from a peak of 6.9 million in late March, when the coronavirus pandemic and mandated business closures shut down swaths of the U.S. economy, last week’s level was well above the highest week on record before this year, which was 695,000 in 1982.

In Indiana, 17,983 people filed initial unemployment claims in the week ended July 18, plummeting from an adjusted number of 28,360 the previous week. Prior to the pandemic, the state was typically seeing fewer than 3,000 claims per week.

After peaking at more than 146,000 initial claims in late March, weekly claims had been declining in Indiana during the pandemic until showing several weekly increases in June. Big spikes in claims late in the month were attributed partly to organized fraud that had previously struck several other states.

Initial claims in Indiana have taken big swings in July. They rose by 6,258 in the week ended July 11 before dropping by 10,422 in the latest week. A total of 189,816 people were receiving unemployment benefits in Indiana as of July 11, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was down from 190,169 the previous week.

Thursday’s report also showed that an additional 974,999 people applied for jobless benefits nationally last week under the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for self-employed and gig workers. That was up from 955,272 the previous week. (Indianapolis Business Journal)


Insurers Fight Virus Payouts


The legal and legislative fight over how much insurance companies must pay for coronavirus-related losses is just starting, and it's likely to get uglier, Axios managing editor Jennifer Kingson writes

  • Why it matters: COVID is, as one insurance industry executive puts it, "the biggest insured loss event in history." 

  • For many companies, a successful insurance claim will make the difference between staying in business or going bust.

Where it stands: Insurance lawyers keeping tabs on the litigation say that hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against insurers over virus-related claims — from In-N-Out Burger to the Houston Rockets to the nonprofit Simon Wiesenthal Center — with scant success so far. 

What’s at stake, according to an insurance industry trade group:

  • COVID could generate $40 to $80 billion in insurance payouts in the U.S., and over $100 billion internationally.

  • By contrast, 9/11 cost insurers $47 billion, while Hurricane Katrina cost them $54 billion.

The fight: Insurers argue that business interruption policies cover only physical damage — like the kind incurred during floods and fires — and that virus contamination doesn't count.

  • "When the end of the world is coming and we’re being asked to pay for it, clearly that’s not something you can responsibly do," Robert Gordon, SVP of policy, research and international at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, tells Axios.

So far, the handful of decisions that have been handed down in relevant cases have gone against the policyholders — who typically don't have enough money or time to pursue endless litigation against their insurers.


White House Details Strategy to Assist Nursing Homes


The Trump administration announced yesterday it is following a four-part strategy to provide additional protection to vulnerable seniors in nursing homes. The strategy includes the White House and HHS providing weekly data to states on high-risk nursing homes; $5 billion in funding – in addition to approximately $5 billion already approved for skilled nursing facilities – to all nursing homes who receive funds from Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement; enhanced testing in nursing homes; and more than 15,000 rapid point-of-care diagnostic devices and associated tests over the next few months, starting with nursing homes located in hotspot areas.


Important Dates


Wednesday, September 2 - 10:00 am.                                                                   Pension Management Oversight Study Committee - Senate Chamber

Thursday, September 3 - 10:00 am                                                                       Pension Management Oversight Study Committee - Room 404

Wednesday, October 14 - 10:00 am                                                                       Pension Management Oversight Study Committee - Room 404


By The Numbers …


COVID-19 Cases

New cases: 954* (new high record)

Total cumulative cases reported Thursday: 59,602

Total cumulative cases reported Wednesday: 58,673

Increase in cumulative cases: 929

COVID-19 Deaths

New deaths: 17

Total deaths: 2,683

County Numbers

Marion County cumulative cases: 13,254 (increase of 160)

Marion County new deaths: 0

Marion County cumulative deaths: 711

Hamilton County cumulative cases: 2,082

Johnson County cumulative cases: 1,491

U.S. and Worldwide Numbers As of Thursday, From Johns Hopkins University:

U.S. cases: 3,987,584

U.S. deaths: 143,446

Global cases: 15,284,136

Global deaths: 624,665

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