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Congratulations to everyone for another week of staying home to protect your own health and to protect the health of those who are most vulnerable. This week the Governor signed a proclamation to encourage all Nebraskans to buckle down for the next 21 days to stay home, stay healthy and stay connected. April is a critical month to flatten the curve here in Nebraska and I thank all of you who were helping with that effort. As a further contribution to this effort I encourage everyone to wear a face covering when you are in a public space like the grocery store. Wearing a mask serves to protect others from possible infection if you happen to be an asymptomatic carrier. I appreciate the ways that so many have stepped up in this time to help others. You can see some of those efforts here in this newsletter, including some resources to help keep kids learning at this time. We also post new resources as we learn about them on our website. If you are providing a resource and would like us to help get the word out, let us know. Thank you for all of the ways that you are helping your families, neighbors, and local businesses at this time. A happy Public Health Week to these leaders who have been working so hard to keep Nebraskans safe and healthy.
I wish you all a wonderful Easter and Passover. Thank you to all of our congregations who are providing online opportunities to connect during this time.
It’s Census Time
Now is the time to fill out your census form. This is a critical service to your community to make sure that every person in our community is counted. To fill out the 2020 Census, visit the Census website linked here. It will be easiest if you have your 12-digit census ID number that was printed on the form that was sent to your residence. However, if you don’t have a Census ID number but want to fill out the form online, you still can; there’s an option when logging on that reads – ‘If you do not have a Census ID, click here‘. There is no citizenship question.
Prepare Now to Vote by Mail this May
All residents of Sarpy County should have received a white postcard-sized form in the mail last month that has a ballot request. If you received this form, simply sign it, stamp it and put it in the mail. If you do not have this form, Voter Registration Applications and Early Ballot Request Forms may be found here. Ballots will be mailed out in the order requests are received, beginning on April 6. Though the Sarpy County Election Commission is closed to the public, the forms will also be available outside of their (locked) doors at 501 Olson Drive, Suite 4, in Papillion. The ballot drop box at the same address is available for people to turn in their completed forms. Forms must be signed or they will not be counted. Another way to submit your request form is to take a picture of your form and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. I strongly encourage you to request a vote by mail ballot to make our primary elections as safe and healthy as possible.
State Budget Update
This week I joined my colleagues on a call with our Appropriations Chair, Senator John Stinner, to discuss the financial effects of the virus. As of now we are not sure the exact impact it will have, but he expects that it will be difficult to expect to support any new spending. He doesn’t anticipate major cuts at this time given the health of our rainy day fund. However, he and other state and local officials have been talking with our federal delegation about the importance of allowing states and local governments to have funds to replace reduced revenues. So far the funds that have been delegated to state governments are narrowly targeted to specific spending on corona needs. One of the big issues facing state and local governments will be the huge drop in revenues that occurs because of this crisis. Senator Stinner is currently estimating a 10% cut – a couple of other national sources of financial information for states are estimating a 15-20% loss for states. I was on a Greater Bellevue Chamber of Commerce call on Friday morning with Congressman Bacon and he said that he recognized this need and would be working with colleagues to fix the language in the previous package or to pass new funding to help state and local governments with revenue losses.
This week one of our colleagues, Senator Wendy DeBoer, organized a joint zoom call with Dr. James Lawlor of UNMC to discuss testing and current health restrictions. Dr. Lawlor said that he and his colleagues were working hard to improve coordination to improve testing across the state. He felt that we are at a stage now where providers should be able to order testing for a patient with COVID 19 symptoms without being limited to the earlier restrictions of just testing first responders and hospitalized patients. [Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance are covering these tests without a copay and the federal government has promised to pay for those who are uninsured.] One of the key questions that several Senators had was whether our current restrictions are sufficient or whether we need to move to a shelter in place order. Dr. Lawlor said that we would know more this next week if our current measures are sufficient or whether we need to have more stringent restrictions. He noted that decisions about restrictions need to recognize and balance the potential health benefits of the restrictions against the potential health harms of the restrictions. He said that there was no easy answer and noted that this was really the call of the Governor. One of his recommendations was to encourage the wearing of masks in public places. He said that Czecoslavakia had demonstrated impressive results in reducing the spread by the widespread use of masks.
Governor’s Executive Orders & Proclamations
21 Days to Keeping Nebraska Healthy
The Governor signed a proclamation on Thursday to bring awareness to the importance of flattening the curve by encouraging everyone to stay home, stay healthy and stay connected in the next 21 days. The proclamation does not replace the directed health measures that are in place. Updates have also been issued to the DHM that will close additional businesses such as hair salons, tattoo shops, massage therapy businesses until April 30. In addition, group sports prohibited are now prohibited until May 31.
Child Abuse Awareness Month
The Governor signed a proclamation designating April as Child Abuse Prevention Month in Nebraska on Tuesday. Stephanie Beasley, Director of the Division of Children and Family Services for DHHS explained that children may be at higher risk of abuse during the pandemic. In the last year, calls from educators totaled 30% of the calls reporting suspected abuse and neglect. With children not in school, fewer eyes are on our children. In Nebraska, everyone is a mandatory reporter of child abuse. If you or someone you know needs help, please call the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline (800-652-1999) or Nebraska Family Helpline (888-866-8660).
On Tuesday, Governor Ricketts signed an executive order waiving the requirement of in-person voting at election offices, with the exception of voters with disabilities and certain other former federal employees. Many election offices are closed, including the Sarpy County office. Early in-person voting will not be available in Sarpy County except for those with disabilities and certain other federal employees. Those with disabilities who wish to vote early should contact the Sarpy County Elections Office at 402-593-2167 to make an appointment to vote early.
Health Information Disclosures
On Wednesday, the Governor issued an executive order allowing state and local health department officials to disclose information about those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the interest of public safety. The executive order remains in effect until 30 days after the state of emergency is lifted. DHHS will establish guidelines about when and how that information may be used and disclosed so that sharing individual health information is limited. In his press conference, the Governor explained that this authority was also important to allow better electronic access to health records by providers across the state.
SNAP Program Changes
The Governor made changes to Nebraska’s SNAP Program this week. These changes include extending SNAP recertification periods by six months during the months of April and May, providing emergency allotments to SNAP recipients, up to the maximum allotment per household in April and May, and extending eligibility periods for other financial assistance programs to align with the SNAP extension. For more information, see the DHHS webpage here.
DHHS 1135 Waiver Approval
On Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services held a Facebook Live event to discuss what is being done to support Medicaid beneficiaries during the outbreak. DHHS was approved for the 1135 waiver last Thursday. This waiver relaxes prior authorization requirements, relaxes time frames around long term care screening and allows modifications for the state’s emergency response plan while providing for other flexibilities during the state of emergency. The Department is working with managed care organizations and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to implement the provisions that are outlined in the waiver. For more information about DHHS and the kinds of work they are doing during the events here on Wednesdays at noon.
Sarpy Directed Health Measure
Sarpy County has issued its own directed health measure. The measure includes the same orders that were made in the statewide DHM by the Governor several weeks ago, including that gatherings of 10 people or more are prohibited, restaurants must close their dining areas and use delivery or drive-through for sales, and elective surgeries are prohibited. There is also guidance within the DHM about childcare facilities. See the full language of the DHM here.
Bellevue Library Extends Closure
Due to ongoing health safety concerns, the Bellevue Public Library will extend its closure to the public through April 30 when the situation will again be evaluated. The closure extension is in line with the DHM.
Assisted Living and Nursing Facilities Hiring
The Nebraska Health Care Association is seeking temporary nurse aides, medication aides or dining assistants in long-term care facilities. To find an assisted living or nursing facility with open positions, visit nehca.org or call 402-435-3551.
The Department of Labor announced unemployment insurance updates this week including the extension of waivers for coronavirus to August 1. Additionally, workers participating in Short-Time Compensation (STC) plans will be eligible for $600 per week in federal benefits under the CARES Act, in addition to their partial unemployment benefits through STC. For more information about the STC plan, visit this link. In Nebraska, the Commissioner of Labor announced on Thursday that the Department has doubled their staff in an effort to process claims as quickly as possible. They are working to add more staff in the next couple of weeks. Though the amount of claims filed did not increase drastically from last week to this week, they still have many to process. Over the past three weeks, 66,741 initial claims have been filed; there were 41,727 filed in the entire 2019 calendar year. Those who have filed a claim can expect an unemployment check in 21 to 28 days.
Small Business Updates
160 Nebraska banks are working to process applications for the Small Business Administration Paycheck Protections Program, the program specifically designed to help businesses keep their employees on payroll. As of midweek, more than 7,837 applications had been submitted for $1.47 billion dollars for companies here in the state.
The Nebraska Chamber has released an updated list of tools for businesses. This includes the Chamber’s Coronavirus Toolkit, a video posted to the Chamber’s YouTube page detailing the lending process and tips for pursuing these options and a guide comparing COVID-19 loans and forgiveness. The Chamber continues to emphasize the importance of reaching out to your lender, accountant and attorney as these are the people best situated to help you examine your options. The Nebraska Business Development Center provides consulting services to businesses that includes how to navigate the options available to small businesses at this time.
CARES Act Update for Faith Based Organizations
This week the SBA issued guidance clarifying that all faith-based organizations impacted by Coronavirus (COVID-19) are eligible to participate in the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, without restrictions based on their religious identity or activities, given that they meet the eligibility criteria. More information about the new guidance is available here.
The Bellevue Food Pantry will now be open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:00am – 12:00pm and 1:00pm – 4:00pm. Individuals must provide a photo ID and proof of residence as a piece of printed mail such as a utility bill received within the past 30 days.
The Kim Foundation is maintaining a page specifically for COVID-19 mental health resources which includes a list of telehealth providers. The page is linked here, with the list of telehealth providers on the bottom left of the page.
The Nebraska Children and Families Foundation website has information about utility disconnection, food security, housing and more.
The American Diabetes Association is providing support and guidance to those impacted by diabetes who are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. You can access helpful resources, understand your risk, know your legal rights, and connect with the community at diabetes.org/coronavirus.If you are struggling to pay for insulin, the ADA has resources to help at InsulinHelp.org.
Resources are available for those impacted by dementia and Alzheimer’s disease during the COVID crisis. Online resources on the website, virtual community programs, telephone support groups, caregiver tips and a 24/7 Helpline (800-272-3900) are all available.
3 News Now continues to update this article frequently with Omaha, Papillion and Bellevue area closures.
For Parents and Students
Nebraska Extension has added three new remote access programs for children — Living Room Learning, Boredom Buster Challenge and Beautiful Day. Living Room Learning activities are for students in 3rd – 5th grades, while the Boredom Buster Challenge is fit for 6th to 9th graders. The Beautiful Day program is fit for students of any age with an interest in art. Nebraska Extension teams will continue to develop additional programming and are doing their best to reach all age groups.
Beyond School Bells, a program through Nebraska Children, encourages students to visit their website which now features virtual “backpacks”. These virtual backpacks contain materials that provide parents and students with engaging, hands-on activities that they can do with little or no supplies and with or without an internet connection.
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All the best,