As we began our fifth week under a statewide emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic, Missourians continue to follow the governor’s guidance on social distancing. As I prepare this report, nearly 4,700 Missourians have tested positive for COVID-19, including 127 within the 21st Senatorial District. The hardest hit of the eight counties I serve are Johnson, Lafayette and Saline, which together account for 114 confirmed COVID-19 infections. At least 130 people have died from the disease statewide, but only one COVID-19 death has been reported in my district. I believe this virus could have impacted many more lives if it were not for everyone’s adherence to social distancing guidelines. I know it’s been difficult being separated from friends, family and workplaces, but your sacrifices do make a difference.
Researchers at The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which tracks the demands on medical resources worldwide, predicts Missouri will see peak demand for hospital beds on April 28. On that day, the IHME estimates coronavirus patients will occupy 1,780 hospital beds statewide, with more than 440 people requiring intensive care. That’s a daunting figure, but at least it offers some hope that we will turn the corner soon, assuming we continue to take steps to stop the transmission of the virus.
As most parents already know, the governor has ordered all public and charter schools in Missouri to remain closed for the rest of the academic year. Schools that have been providing meals to home-bound students are expected to continue to do so. Efforts to engage students through online resources and distance learning technology will remain in place through the end of the school year. At this point, no decision has been made about summer school. For more information, contact your local school or visit www.dese.mo.gov.
The Missouri Senate, which has met just two days since the governor’s emergency declaration, plans to return to Jefferson City on April 27. With a constitutional requirement to adjourn on May 15, the Legislature doesn’t have much time to finish its work for the year. I’m confident that we will make good use of the time available, and we’ll take every precaution to keep lawmakers, staff and the public safe while we meet.
Although lawmakers have not been at the Capitol, my staff continues to answer calls and emails while working from their homes. We’ve fielded a lot of calls from unemployed Missourians who have been unable to reach the Missouri Division of Employment Security. Many of these calls relate to the $600 federal unemployment insurance supplement included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed by Congress in March. I’m happy to report that the division began issuing these payments this week. Everyone who qualifies for unemployment insurance will receive the additional money. It may take a few days before everyone sees their benefit increase, but it will happen shortly.
This morning, I received word that Missouri’s Department of Labor expects to begin processing applications for the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA) as early as April 19. This program will provide assistance to self-employed individuals, “gig” workers and independent contractors who do not qualify for unemployment insurance. Until the program is fully operational, online applicants will receive a “not an insured worker” response. Once active, the PUA program will provide up to $320 per week to those who qualify. Participants will also receive the $600 per week federal supplement available under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program. Applicants will be required to show proof of income and employment, with tax records, business cards or advertisements. For more information, read the online FAQ documents posted at www.labor.mo.gov/coronavirus.
Regardless of which unemployment assistance program benefits you, I encourage anyone who has lost their job to visit www.labor.mo.gov for more information about unemployment insurance. You can apply for benefits online, check the status of your account and find answers to the most frequently asked questions. The staff at the Department of Labor is doing everything possible to respond to an unprecedented volume of unemployment claims in Missouri and phone lines are definitely overwhelmed. We can all help by utilizing the available online resources.
We’re also getting word that Economic Impact Payments to individuals through the federal CARES Act have begun to reach bank accounts. Most individuals who earn less than $75,000 per year will receive $1,200 from the federal government. The payments are automatic and no further action is necessary if you filed a tax return in 2018 or 2019, or received Social Security benefits. If you did not file taxes, you may register for the payments at www.irs.gov. Speaking of taxes, please remember that the deadline for filing state and federal income taxes has been extended until July 15.
I believe one of the most enthusiastically received provisions of the federal CARES Act has been the Paycheck Protection Program. Employers can apply for low-interest (1 percent) loans through local banks. The loans, which are guaranteed through the Small Business Administration (SBA), are converted to grants if the money is used to pay wages, rent, mortgage interest or utilities. As long as the borrower keeps workers on the payroll, the loan does not need to be repaid. There has been some question of whether farms qualified for the loans, but this week the SBA confirmed that agricultural operations are eligible. For more information, visit www.sba.gov.
Missouri continues to receive assistance through various federal programs aimed at providing relief from the coronavirus crisis. This week, we learned that we are the first state to receive a federal grant for rural transit as part of national COVID-19 relief efforts. The Missouri Department of Transportation will receive $67 million to support rural transit programs, including the nonprofit OATS service. Missouri’s K-12 schools also received $208 million to fund distance learning technology.
The coronavirus has caused incredible disruptions to our lives and our economy, but we will get through this. Following social distancing guidelines will reduce the impact of the virus and hasten the day when we can all get back to work and resume our normal lives. I appreciate everything that Missourians are doing to protect each other from the disease and to help their neighbors endure hardship. We all owe a special debt of gratitude to those who continue to expose themselves to potential infection, whether they serve in our hospitals or stock shelves at our local grocery store. Regardless of the “essential” nature of our jobs, we all have a role to play in getting us past this pandemic. God bless you all and stay safe.
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.