(April 8, 2020) —The Legislature returned to the Capitol this week but it was not business as usual. On Tuesday, I joined with fellow members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to review the supplemental budget bill proposed by the House of Representatives. This budget includes federal funding for the COVID-19 response and relief efforts in Missouri. All told, the supplemental budget authorizes more than $6 billion in spending, the vast majority of that money coming from the federal government. It’s still unclear exactly how much money we’ll draw from Washington, D.C., but the legislation we approved gives the governor the flexibility to respond to the COVID-19 crisis as it develops.
On Wednesday, the Senate approved the revised budget bill and referred it to the House of Representatives, where it was truly agreed and finally passed. It was a remarkable scene at the Capitol this week. Members were asked to stay in their offices unless they needed to speak on the floor or cast a vote. Visitors were allowed in the Senate gallery but every member of the public entering the Capitol was subject to a health screening. Access to the building was limited, with visitors only permitted to go directly to the gallery by way of stairs. The few committee hearings that had to be conducted were livestreamed on the Internet, allowing the public to watch their state government conduct business, despite the extraordinary circumstances.
STATE AND FEDERAL RESPONSE
As you’re probably aware, the governor issued a statewide stay-at-home order last week. This comes on the heels of local orders already in effect in Caldwell, Johnson, Lafayette and Ray counties. The order requires everyone to follow social distancing guidelines, including maintaining at least six feet of separation from other people and practicing good hygiene. Schools will remain closed and restaurants are limited to providing delivery or carry-out service. All gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited. The order distinguishes between essential and non-essential businesses but does not force the closure of any business, so long as social distancing practices are followed. Essential retail stores must limit entrance to customers, based on their building’s rated occupancy. More information on the order and its effect on businesses can be found at the Missouri Department of Economic Development’s website at www.ded.mo.gov.
Missourians who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus will receive an additional $600 per week as part of their unemployment insurance compensation. The additional money was authorized in the CARES Act passed by Congress. A separate program will provide benefits to self-employed individuals. The supplemental payments will be effective as of March 25, and continue through July 25. For more information about unemployment insurance in Missouri, visit www.labor.mo.gov.
Businesses with fewer than 500 employees may qualify for assistance through the U.S. Small Business Administration. Employers can apply for a loan through one of two SBA programs. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) covers up to eight weeks of payroll expenses. PPP loans do not need to be repaid if the business does not reduce its workforce and the money is used to pay salaries, wages, rent, mortgage interest or utilities. Applications are available through participating local banks. SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program provides up to $2 million dollars of low-interest loans. The program includes an emergency advance provision that will quickly provide up to $10,000 while an application is being reviewed. The advance does not have to be repaid, if used for coronavirus-related expenses. For more information about either program, or to apply online for economic injury loans, visit www.sba.gov.
HEROES OF HEALTH
I’d like to give a shout out to our local public health agencies. These dedicated professionals are responsible for the surveillance of the outbreak, tracking contact cases and ensuring appropriate steps are taken to slow transmission of the virus. It is through their efforts that the rest of us learn what we need to do to stay healthy. I believe everything that we’re seeing now – from the hand-washing recommendations to stay-at-home orders and the masks that we’ve all started wearing – reflect years of careful study of how viruses spread and what to do to prevent that. We need to listen to their guidance and follow their advice.
On that note, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends Americans wear a cloth face covering when they venture out in public. Homemade masks can be used as a voluntary public health measure to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The CDC has posted instructions for making face masks on its website at www.cdc.gov, and do-it-yourself designs are being posted on popular social media sites. We’ll all get used to seeing masked people soon enough. Remember, my mask protects you, and your mask protects me.
Two Design and Drafting Technology students at the University of Central Missouri have launched an effort to make wearing a mask less bothersome. Adopting a design developed by a Canadian youth, Matthew Argotsinger and Cameron Rogers have begun manufacturing ear guards that reduce the discomfort that comes from long-term mask use. The two UCM juniors use the school’s 3D printers to make the guards. They’re volunteering their time and the school provides materials. They hope to produce 400 of the guards in the coming week and donate them to Western Missouri Medical Center in Warrensburg. I’m proud of these two innovative students, but especially Cameron, as he is the son of my legislative assistant.
MAKE SURE YOU COUNT
The current coronavirus crisis serves as a powerful reminder of how dependent states and communities are on the federal government. The money we use locally to respond to emergencies often comes from Washington, D.C., and our share of federal dollars is based on population. This is just one more reason why I believe it is absolutely critical that every Missourian participates in the U.S. Census.
According to the U.S. Census’ website, 46 percent of Missourians have completed the Census, so far. That puts us ahead of the national average of 44.5 percent. Three of the eight counties of the 21st Senatorial District have outperformed the state. Livingston, Ray and Saline counties all show greater than 50 percent participation. Four counties (Caldwell, Carroll, Howard and Johnson) trail behind the national average.
You do not have to wait for a paper Census form to participate. If you haven’t done so already, please do your part at www.my2020census.gov. You can also fill out the Census by phone by calling 844-330-2020. The U.S. Census is a time-honored tradition that dates to our Founding Fathers, and participation is extremely important. Please make sure you are counted, so that Missouri can receive every federal benefit we deserve.
As always, I appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at 573-751-4302. You may also email me at email@example.com.