NewsHealth / July 19, 2020

Coronavirus: State Reopening Plan Remains On Hold, Indiana Unemployment Rate Falls Slightly

Article origination IPBS-RJC
Coronavirus: State Reopening Plan Remains On Hold, Indiana Unemployment Rate Falls Slightly

Employees at Kem Krest in Elkhart get temperature screenings upon entering the facility.

Justin Hicks/IPB News

The Indiana State Department of Health reported 62 additional confirmed deaths over the last week, bringing the state’s total to 2,629. The state announced more than 56,000 total confirmed cases, with more than 626,000 Hoosiers tested.

Indiana Keeps Its Reopening Plan On Hold Through July

The state won’t advance its reopening plan for “at least” another two weeks, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Wednesday.

Indiana was set to move into its final phase this weekend. But several COVID-19 metrics – including higher percentages of positive tests and more hospitalizations – are trending in the wrong direction.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said she hopes those numbers push people toward compliance.

“I do feel like it is a time for Hoosiers to decide that they are going to go back to more careful social distancing and to wear their masks,” Box said.

Hoosiers Can Now Apply For Rental Assistance From State Program

Hoosiers in need of help with their rent can now apply for assistance from a federally-funded state program.

The Rental Assistance Program will provide up to $500 a month for four months to people who’ve lost income during the pandemic. The money can be used to help cover unpaid rent from previous months and to help pay going forward.

To be eligible, Hoosiers’ current household income – including unemployment – must be less than it was before March.

People can apply online at IndianaHousingNow.org.

Indiana Faced $900 Million Budget Shortfall, Still Ended Fiscal Year With $1.4 Billion Reserve

Indiana faced a $900 million hole in its finances in the fiscal year that ended last month.

The state is covering its shortfall through cuts to state agencies, federal help and its budget reserves – with $1.4 billion still left in state coffers.

Budget officials estimate Indiana took a hit of nearly $600 million in the last fiscal year from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. That was seen, for instance, in sales tax and gaming revenues that fell far short of expectations. Yet a big chunk of the budget shortfall can be traced to Tax Day getting moved from April to July, which means the state should still collect a lot of that money.

That’s good news for the new fiscal year that just started July 1. But Office of Management and Budget Director Cris Johnston said the future still looks cloudy. And he said Indiana will need “more austere budgets” as a result.

Indiana Unemployment Rate Falls, But Benefits Data Shows Many Workers Still Struggling

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates unemployment in Indiana dropped just more than 1 percent in June, from 12.3 percent to 11.2 percent. It’s a slight drop from the previous month, but slightly higher than the national average of 11.1.

Despite the drop in Indiana’s unemployment rate, last week’s unemployment insurance report shows the number of Hoosiers continuing to get unemployment benefits rose for the first time in two months. 

Meanwhile, some unemployed or underemployed workers still report waiting months to receive benefits.

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As Additional $600 Benefits End, Unemployed Hoosiers Worry About Future

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development will stop issuing an additional $600 to recipients of unemployment benefits on July 25, but many Hoosiers say it needs to be extended or replaced.

The $600 expires at the end of the month due to a provision in the federal CARES Act. If unemployed workers file for benefits on or before July 25, DWD said it will make the additional payments. Unless Congress provides additional relief, the maximum Hoosiers could get in unemployment assistance would decrease to, at most, $390 per week.

Indianapolis resident Tierra Richardson lost her job due to the pandemic. She says without some kind of add-on to benefits, she won’t have enough money to cover rent and utilities – and she’s almost out of savings.

“I don’t think we deserve the $600, but at this time of need we do need the money because people are losing their jobs,” she said. “People are falling behind in bills.”

Hiring Company Adapting To COVID-19 With Drive-In Events

The coronavirus pandemic is changing the hiring process. One company is helping businesses hire people through a drive-in model.

The company, Staff Management | SMX, works with manufacturing businesses nationally, including more than 20 in Indiana, running their hiring processes.

Candidates start the job application by submitting basic information ahead of time, and the day of the interview, driving up to one of the designated spots in a parking lot.

The entire interview is then conducted through the car window, lasting about 30 minutes from start to finish.

All IN: Indiana’s Immigrants And COVID-19

Indiana’s immigrants are often on the front lines of the pandemic working essential jobs, sometimes without sufficient protective equipment. And often those are the lucky ones. Those who have lost their jobs either can’t receive public benefits because of their status, or they aren’t comfortable doing so for fear of being labeled a public charge.

All IN spoke to public policy experts about what that means, and how existing immigration policy affects these decisions and impacts public health. And immigration advocates discuss how they are working to bring important information to their communities. 

Online Petition Highlights Concerns From Parents, Teachers About Reopening Schools

Parents and teachers are voicing concerns about schools reopening, with the new academic year only weeks away. An online petition gaining traction says Indiana schools should not reopen without more strict health measures in place.

Marion County teacher Amber Seibert is part of the group telling the state not to reopen schools – unless lawmakers and local officials require more safety regulations for everyone. 

She says teachers want to come back, but many are unwilling to risk their and their students' health.

"You know there are tons of people who, I can tell you, are ready to walk," she said.

Ag Barometer: Details Of USDA Financial Aid Help Improve Farmer Sentiment

The coronavirus pandemic has caused American farmers to feel less optimistic than before about their present and future. A recent national survey shows farmer sentiment is improving for a second month in a row after falling from its all-time highest point earlier this year.

Purdue University’s Ag Economy Barometer showed farmers feel better about their prospects in June than they did earlier this year.

The survey recorded its highest level of optimism in February, when most farmers believed the U.S. was resolving international trade issues.

That was before COVID-19 shut down much of the global economy. "Stay-At-Home" mandates strained food supply chains. The ethanol industry slowed to the point that it temporarily shut down some refineries.

All IN: How Will Higher Ed Institutions Adjust?

A traditional college campus with tight dorm rooms, crowded lecture halls and bustling bars at night isn’t the most compatible setting for social distancing guidelines. For many students returning to campus this fall, life will look different. And leaders across Indiana say they're working to protect the quality of the education available to them.

All IN spoke to leaders from community colleges and four-year institutions about the plans they’ve developed so that students, both domestic and international, do not have to choose between their health and their education.

BMV Resumes Driving Skills Tests For All Hoosiers

All Hoosiers may now schedule a driving skills test. The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles canceled tests in March, as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of the state. It started rescheduling those canceled tests in late June.

Now, anyone can schedule a driver’s test, and all branches statewide will offer the exams by July 24. People can make appointments up to three weeks in advance (and no less than 48 hours ahead of time).

Contact Lauren at lchapman@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @laurenechapman_.

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