Senator Denny Hoskins Capitol Report
Good News and Bad News
There’s good news and bad news on the COVID-19 front. The good news is Missouri seems to be over the hump in terms of reported coronavirus cases and deaths. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a research organization from the University of Washington that tracks global health issues, estimates Missouri reached its coronavirus peak on April 14. While the total number of coronavirus infections continues to grow, the rapid escalation of confirmed cases in our state seems to have ebbed.
The bad news is the worst hot spot for coronavirus infections in Missouri is in my Senate District. There are now more than 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Saline County. The number of confirmed cases in the county nearly doubled in the past week. Thankfully, there have been no deaths related to COVID-19 in the county. Adjusted for its population of 23,000, Saline County now has the highest coronavirus infection rate in Missouri – 445 cases per 100,000 residents, according to the county health department. That compares to about 240 per 100,000 in St. Louis County, previously one of the hardest hit areas of the state. No other county within the 21st Senatorial District is reporting anywhere near the level of infection Saline County has seen, though rates in both Johnson and Lafayette approach 100 cases per 100,000 residents.
I believe the key to slowing the spread of COVID-19 is avoiding contact with other people. Anyone who feels ill should self-isolate at home, and all others should practice social distancing when they go out in public. The CDC recommends wearing a cloth face mask to avoid spreading the virus from person to person.
Help for Unemployed Workers
A new federal program authorized by the coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress will add $600 per week to unemployment insurance payments from the State of Missouri.These supplemental payments, funded by the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, have already begun to reach Missourians and will continue to boost benefits through July 25.
Another program approved as part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides unemployment assistance to self-employed individuals, independent contractors and so-called “gig” workers. To be eligible for benefits under the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, individuals must first file a regular unemployment claim at www.uinteract.labor.mo.gov. Typically, self-employed individuals will receive a notice that they are not an insured worker. This is because they are not covered under the regular unemployment insurance system. When filing, individuals should indicate “none” when asked for states where they have worked, unless they have worked for an employer in the last 18 months. Applicants will receive notification from the Division of Employment Security with further instructions. For more guidance on how to submit an application and the proper responses to enter in various fields, please read the FAQ section at www.labor.mo.gov/coronavirus.
Refilling the Till
One of the most eagerly received provisions of the federal CARES act has been the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which offers forgivable low-interest (1 percent) loans to cover eight weeks of payroll expenses. Congress appropriated $320 billion for PPP, but the money was gone in little over a week. More than 46,000 small businesses in Missouri were approved for the loans, which are guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration. The total value of the loans approved in Missouri exceeded $7.5 billion, earning us the No. 15 rank among the states. This week, Congress is expected to authorize an additional $350 billion for PPP loans. The program is open to nearly any business or nonprofit organization with fewer than 500 employees – including farms and other agricultural operations. Like the first round, I anticipate that these loans will go quickly. I believe anyone interested should contact their bank or farm credit provider now. For more information, visit www.sba.gov.
Beware of Scammers
Tough times often bring out the worst in people and I believe our current situation is no exception. The Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations’ Division of Employment Security is warning unemployment insurance claimants about potential scams perpetrated by individuals aiming to steal personal information. Be aware of potential fraud and only use the official department’s website, www.uinteract.labor.mo.gov, to apply or check on benefits.
Be especially cautious of individuals or websites offering to help fill out paperwork, or anyone charging a fee to file for unemployment. There is no fee to file an unemployment claim and you will never be asked for a credit card or bank account information. The division does not work with or endorse any private service that claims to help applicants, nor does it ask claimants to take surveys. We should always be skeptical any time we’re asked to provide personal information. That caution is especially appropriate in these trying times. To report incidents of attempted fraud or scams, contact the Missouri Attorney General’s Office at www.ago.mo.gov.
Tough times also tend to bring out the best in people, as neighbors help neighbors and merchants find new and innovative ways to serve their customers. A project coordinator with MU Extension, Lorin Fahrmeier and her husband, Bret, are examples of this. The couple owns a fruit and vegetable farm near Lexington. Recently, they began selling all their produce online in response to the coronavirus stay-at-home orders. Lorin then developed an online tool to easily connect Missouri consumers with locally produced food.
Administered by University Extension, the www.MOFoodFinder.org website allows farmers, grocers and other local suppliers to list food for sale, their location and contact information online. Consumers can use the online map and search tools to find foods they wish to purchase. I hope everyone will take the time to visit the site and look for wholesome, locally produced food, or register as a supplier so other Missourians know what you have to offer. This is just one example of people making these tough times a little easier on all of us.
Stay safe everyone. The Legislature returns to Jefferson City on April 27. I will be sure to update you on the few remaining weeks of legislative activity.
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.