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COVID-19 Situation Update
The COVID-19 situation is constantly evolving. We will do our best to continue to post information as it becomes available on our Facebook and Twitter sites. Once a week we will continue to prepare and distribute our newsletter with summaries of new information. We are also posting these newsletter updates on our Unicameral blog so you can access information from previous updates there.
The Legislature remains at recess. We will be coming back into session for three days next week to pass emergency appropriations for funds needed for items like more protective gear for our health workers, increased resources for testing and more resources for staff at our Veterans and DHHS facilities. Plans are underway for a process of voting that complies with the guidance to have no more than 10 people in a room at a time.
The Unicameral website has a statement from the Speaker and the Executive Board noting that while we are out of session, our offices have been busy working with the executive branch and government agencies to implement and communicate emergency policy changes. View the full statement here. Our office has had a special focus on what we can do to reduce or eliminate evictions in the state during this crisis.
COVID-19 Housing Update
Prior to the session adjourning, I was working on legislation to prevent evictions during the pandemic. Now given that the legislature is postponed indefinitely, it is unlikely that we will be able to pass statute language in a timely manner. The Governor has announced that his office is researching whether his office has power to issue a moratorium on evictions. My office has been in communication with housing advocates and tracking federal developments impacting evictions.
Federal Home Loans
Recent federal actions allow some relief for homeowners with FHA and FHFA (Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae) mortgages. Both agencies have implemented a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions for single family homeowners. The FHFA is also allowing payment forbearance for borrowers who have suffered a loss of income due to coronavirus for up to 12 months. Payments may be reduced or paused completely. They encourage borrowers experiencing a hardship to reach out to their loan servicer for more information about forbearance or to work out a payment plan. FHFA is also directing lenders not to report people to the credit bureaus for missed or late payments if the borrower is in forbearance at this time. These changes impact about half of mortgage holders. It is expected that the entire mortgage industry will soon adopt similar policies.
The Federal HUD recently sent guidance encouraging public housing agencies to put a temporary freeze on evictions for all rent assisted properties. Families have the ability to report a decrease in income to have their share of the rent adjusted. I spoke with the director of the Bellevue Housing Agency serving Sarpy County (BHA) yesterday and confirmed that BHA has placed a moratorium on evictions and have forms outside their office and online for people who need income adjustments to their rent.
I am glad that federal and local agencies are taking steps to provide relief for some homeowners and those in public housing. However, I am concerned about renters who may still be vulnerable to evictions. The Governor discouraged evictions in a recent press conference, but I am encouraging him to issue an executive order to place a moratorium on all evictions during this emergency.
Bellevue Public Schools – Meal Support for Students
Bellevue Public Schools is extending a program similar to the summer meals program to ensure all students have food at home during this closure. Beginning on Monday, March 23rd from 11:00am-12:00pm; and then each day through the week visit these locations for a meal:
Every child who shows up (ages 1-18) at one of our drive up sites will receive meals (breakfast and lunch) to take home. There is no charge, and no ID is required.
Food Bank for the Heartland
I spoke with Brian Barks, President of Food Bank for the Heartland, yesterday morning. Though the Bellevue Food Pantry has closed, there are two upcoming drive-up pantries in Bellevue within the next week put on by Food Bank for the Heartland. The Food Bank is putting together pre-packed pantry boxes that contain staple items like peanut butter and jelly, pasta and pasta sauce, canned vegetables, canned fruits, bread and produce. Dependent on family size, the pantry boxes should feed families for 7-10 days. In an effort to reduce person-to-person contact, volunteers will ask you to drive up, pop your trunk and put the box in for you without you ever having to exit your vehicle. Though they do not know how many people to expect, they are going to do their best to serve every household they can. See here for the full list of mobile pantries for the month of March. Brian also noted that calling 2-1-1, United Way’s community resource line, will put you in touch with local pantries or meal providers based on your zipcode.
Drive Up Pantries in Bellevue
Mission Middle School (2202 S Washington Street), March 25th, 5:00 pm – 6:30pm
Church of the Holy Spirit (1305 Thomas Drive), March 28th, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Providing Relief for Restaurants
On Thursday, the Governor directed all restaurants and bars to close their dining areas and move to take-out or delivery options only. The Governor issued an executive order that afternoon to provide relief to restaurant owners and businesses who may experience economic hardship during this time. The executive order permits the following:
Temporarily Ease Driver and Vehicle Requirements
On Thursday the Governor also issued an executive order to increase flexibility in requirements for Nebraskans relating to driver licensing and vehicle registration requirements. The Governor is extending driver licenses and vehicle registrations expiring on or after March 1st. The extension will remain in effect until 30 days after the order is lifted. This will assist social distancing and reduce the need for traveling to driver licensing offices. Any Nebraska penalties or interest associated with late filing of quarterly returns for members of the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) will be waived. Monthly inspection and reporting requirements under the ignition interlock program will be provided a two-week extension period for all existing interlock customers. Additional extensions will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Federal Tax Day Moved to July 15
The Secretary of the Treasury announced Friday morning that the federal Tax Day would move from April 15th to July 15th. This provides individuals and businesses with additional time to file and make payments without interest or penalties for federal taxes. The Governor said that we should expect an announcement next week on whether the state of Nebraska will follow suit.
Federal Student Loan Payments Suspended
The U.S. Secretary of Education announced today that the office of Federal Student Aid is providing student loan relief to borrowers for the time being. All borrowers with federally held student loans will automatically have their interest rates set to 0% for 60 days or more to allow for greater flexibility during the national emergency. This will allow borrowers to temporarily stop their payments without worrying about accruing interest.
Governor’s Press Conferences
Wednesday afternoon, the Governor held a press conference with leaders from the Grocery, Restaurant and Daycare industries. In discussing the grocery industry we were assured that the supply chain is strong and there are just shortages on some sanitizing items. There are not any concerns about the strength of the food supply. It was recommended that we let the elderly and most vulnerable people shop in the first hour of the day. If you can shop at a later time, it allows people in high-risk groups to get items that they need with less risk of contracting the virus and suffering from complications. For now, the recommendation is to avoid reusable bags to avoid any spread of germs from the bags. The restaurant industry continues to use strong sanitation practices. The best ways to support your local restaurants in this time is by ordering carryout and buying gift cards. Lastly, the Governor is still mandating that people congregate in groups of 10 people or less by limiting daycares to 10 kids per room. The daycare industry is asking parents to allow health care workers and first responders to have daycare spots first, due to their work demands.
On Friday, the Governor held another press conference to discuss testing, OPPD’s response, the city of Lincoln’s first confirmed case and our water supply. Dr. Anthone, director of the Division of Public Health, spoke briefly about their need to expand testing so that people who must be tested (health care professionals, first responders, and nursing care facility patients) have access. Tim Burke from OPPD discussed that they are in the process of creating a pandemic crisis and business continuity plan and have extended their disconnection period through April 30th. He expects that the disconnection period will likely be lengthened after they reassess the situation in the near future. OPPD is looking into customer options and solutions they can implement for the next several weeks but wants to assure the public that they are monitoring staff and implementing work-from-home strategies. Lastly, though it can be convenient to have bottled water around, the drinking water supply is safe and abundant and the Governor is encouraging Nebraskans to use their tap water as they would normally.
Nebraska Approved for SBA Disaster Loans
At his press conference on Friday, the Governor announced that Nebraska was approved for the Small Business Administration Disaster Loans. More information will be forthcoming on this topic in the coming days. For now, you can access information about these loans here. The Governor stated that a call center will likely be operated through the Department of Economic Development for those who want to apply for an SBA Disaster Loan but have questions or concerns.
Governor Ricketts Announces Directed Health Measures for Sarpy County
On Thursday, the Governor announced the State’s first Directed Health Measure (DHM) for COVID-19 which imposes a limit on public gatherings. This DHM applies to Cass, Douglas, Washington and Sarpy counties. The DHM applies to restaurants and bars, requiring that they shut down their dining areas and transition to only take-out or drive-through options. It also applies to theatres, churches and other places of worship, gyms, and social clubs. Below are answers to frequently asked questions regarding the DHM which were included in the Governor’s press release.
Do I need to shut down my bar or restaurant? No, but please prepare food for takeout.
Do I need to shut down my daycare? No. DHHS has issued new guidance for daycares you can find at this link.
Do I need to shut down my office? The DHM does not apply to office buildings, grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals, nursing homes, correctional facilities, court houses, court rooms, banks, car dealerships, auto repair shops, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, small shops, golf courses, big box stores, gas stations, convenience stores, shopping malls, manufacturing facilities, packing facilities, construction jobs, and other traditional office settings. That being said, please make an effort to engage in social distancing if possible.
Are weddings or funerals cancelled? Weddings and funerals are subject to the 10-person limit, as are concerts, athletic events and other social gatherings. As such, rearranging plans is encouraged and flexibility on the part of event planners and facilities is appreciated.
Other counties in Nebraska remain under the Governor’s guidance that was issued on Monday. Please find that guidance here.
Testing and Screening Information
If you are showing signs and symptoms of COVID-19, please call ahead to your healthcare provider to be evaluated and determine if you need to be tested. Symptoms can appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. The most common symptoms reported are: fever, cough, fatigue and shortness of breath. If you do not have a primary care provider, below is a list of healthcare networks that can help. If you see a doctor at one of the health systems below, call or use the hospital’s information line below.
The bill recently passed by Congress requires that private insurance companies, Medicare, and Medicaid cover COVID-19 testing. Contact your insurance provider for more information.
Sarpy County Cancellations and Closures
The following Sarpy County events and programs have been cancelled:
Bellevue Cancellations and Closures
The following Bellevue closures have been announced:
Offutt Air Force Base Closures
On Wednesday, Offutt AFB announced that its Field House and Indoor Pool would be closed indefinitely. All events at Warhawk Community Center have been canceled. Peacekeeper Lanes is closed for bowling, but Kegler Kafe is open for take-out orders. The Military Personnel Flight will limit its waiting room and modify check-in procedures.
Lift Up Sarpy
Lift Up Sarpy County provides management for a collaboration of local organizations that help families move from crisis to sustainability. This is achieved by providing information, support, education and crisis assistance. Please call 402-578-1953 for more information on how Lift Up Sarpy can assist you during these trying times.
Sarpy Chamber Partnering with Midlands Community Foundation
The Midlands Community Foundation has established a charitable fund named the Coronavirus Response Fund. The community can donate to the fund and donations will be pooled to provide emergency food, supplies, utility and other financial help for the hardest-hit households within Sarpy and Cass counties. The Coronavirus Response Fund will partner with other nonprofit organizations, government, and business partners to provide flexible resources to organizations in our joint service area working with communities who are disproportionately impacted by Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the economic consequences of this outbreak. If you are interested in donating to the COVID Response Fund to help Sarpy and Cass counties, please follow this link.
A reminder that the DHHS COVID-19 information line is available 8:00am – 8:00pm, 7 days a week, at 402-552-6645. If you have questions about Nebraska cases, how to protect yourself or others, or Nebraska’s response to the virus please give them a call.
If you have questions about resources or services, call the United Way’s 2-1-1 Resource Hotline.
You are also welcome to call my office and speak with my staff at 402-471-2615. Though we are working from home and doing our part to flatten the curve, all calls are being forwarded to staff cell phones and we are checking email regularly. Emails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Daily Press Conferences with Governor Ricketts
Starting next week, the Governor will be holding daily press conferences at 2:00pm on weekdays. If you would like to stay up to date on Nebraska’s response to COVID-19, please visit this link to stream his press conferences live.
Federal Response: Families First Coronavirus Response Act
On Wednesday President Trump signed into law HR 6201: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act”. The Act will go into effect not later than 15 days after enactment. The Act provides:
2 weeks of paid sick leave paid at 100% of the employee’s usual salary up to a maximum of $511 per day if the employee is isolated, sick or quarantined (points 1-3) and $200 per day for employees caring for a family member or a child whose school has closed (points 4-5). Eligible employees are those who are unable to work because:
Up to 12 weeks paid family leave for employees unable to work because of a need to care for the employee’s child under 18 if the child’s school or child care is closed or the child care provider is unavailable. This leave is paid at a rate of two-thirds of the employee’s usual wage, up to a maximum of $200 per day.
Generally, these paid sick leave benefits apply to you if:
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All the best,