Yesterday, on May 18th Gov. Abbott issued the Executive Order moving Texas into Phase 2 of the staggered re-opening. Phase 1 re-opening had occurred almost precisely 3 weeks prior. The primary arguments used in favor of doing so revolve around restoring jobs, hospitalization rates remaining somewhat steady, and percentage positive confirmed tests. They provided state-wide numbers for the last two points.
That last one can be misleading though, as state testing volume overall has continued to increase, a decline in the positive “ratio” is definitely going to occur, even if daily positive tests are actually increasing! Daily positive rates would have to OUTPACE any increase in testing volume before this “ratio” metric would trend any direction but down, and no testing volume per day data was provided as part of the governor’s chart seen below.
The validity of this metric and trend is highly dependent upon how many tests are being administered per day and the health status of people seeking those tests. Being that testing is not yet widespread, free, or public in Texas, it is hard to make an argument that those tested equates to a representative sample of the population yet.
Some noteworthy local exceptions were illuminated in the Phase 2 plans, including the Amarillo area, whom are experiencing a surge in cases, a hot-spot likely originating from the struggling meat processing plants
Notably this includes scheduled re-open dates between May 18th and May 31st, and additional language for things like:
Restaurants (further capacity)
Professional Sports (without spectators)
It remains a unclear how local counties and municipalities are going to be allowed to handle their own case surges, if and when an additional waves of COVID-19 cases mount up. So far, the State has been adamant about how the order at the state level over-rules any local ordinance or orders, and Austin has been actively adjusting it’s guidance to comply with state rules.
Important Information Regarding Extensions of Deadlines Related to Benefit Claims and Appeals, Special Enrollment and COBRA
Due to the various challenges that individuals are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S Department of Labor (DOL) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) jointly issued rules that extend certain deadlines for individuals who participate in employee benefit plans. These rules apply to the IATSE National Benefit Funds.
In accordance with the DOL/IRS rules, the “outbreak period” will not be counted when the Funds (or their claims administrators and benefit providers) calculate certain deadlines. The “outbreak period” is defined as the period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the COVID-19 National Emergency ends as determined by the federal government (or such other date as the DOL/IRS announce, which may be specific to different states or geographic regions).
The following deadlines are extended by the rules:
The Funds’ deadlines for filing a benefit claim or an appeal of a denied claim (or other adverse benefit determination), and the period for requesting an external review (or perfecting a request for external review) of a health benefit claim.
The 60-day period to request special enrollment in the Health & Welfare Fund after acquiring a new dependent due to birth, marriage, adoption or placement for adoption, or after losing other health coverage (or becoming eligible for health coverage assistance under Medicaid or CHIP).
The 60-day COBRA election period and the 60-day period for notifying the Health Fund of a COBRA qualifying event or Social Security disability determination.
The 45-day and 30-day deadlines for paying initial and monthly COBRA premiums.
For example, if the National Emergency ends on June 29, then the outbreak period would end on August 28 (60 days later), and the period from March 1 through August 28 would not count toward any of the above periods that would ordinarily expire between March 1 and August 28. Those periods would re-start on August 29, with the remaining days left in the applicable period. Please refer to the Summary Plan Descriptions and the Funds’ website for additional details regarding the various plan deadlines, and email if you have any questions regarding how these rules may apply to you. Please note that only the four deadlines listed above are extended. Any other deadlines under the Plans (such as the due date for making any required CAPP payments) remain in place.
Please also note that, in conjunction with the above relief, the DOL stated that it recognizes that employee benefit plans (like the Funds) also face challenges and disruptions that make it difficult to communicate with participants by the usual methods and in as timely a manner during the outbreak period. In addition, the DOL/IRS rules specifically provide for the outbreak period to be disregarded in calculating the deadline for the Fund Office to provide COBRA election notices to qualified beneficiaries
“Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt admitted not much changes under the extended guidelines – except to allow for salons to reopen under the state’s rules. Though both asked Austinites to continue social distancing, wearing facial coverings and limiting nonessential travel to reduce the spread of COVID-19.“
“The Austin-Travis County orders extend the requirement to wear facial coverings in public, though there is no penalty for violating that rule. And both orders are consistent with the governor’s latest order, which requires people to “minimize social gatherings and minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household.”
Also included is instructions to voluntarily keep guest logs at local businesses, this will help future contact tracing efforts.
Neighborhood Housing Department Issues $1.2M in Rental Assistance to Be Administered by Austin Housing Authority Fri, 05/01/2020 – 09:56
Applicants must apply 9:00 a.m. May 4th through 11:59 p.m. May 6th
The City of Austin Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department (NHCD) is providing $1.2 million in emergency rental assistance to Austinites affected by the COVID-19 outbreak to be administered through a contract with the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA).
The Relief of Emergency Needs for Tenants (RENT) program will distribute one-time rental subsidies through a lottery system similar to HACA’s Housing Choice Voucher program. Residents must apply for the lottery through HACA’s RENT website at www.atxrenthelp.org starting May 4th at 9:00 a.m. and ending at 11:59 p.m. on May 6th. More information is available www.atxrenthelpinfo.org.
“Funding for this emergency rental assistance is being accessed from the City’s local funds. In this time of pandemic and economic uncertainty, Austin families need the security of safe and stable housing,” said Rosie Truelove, Director of NHCD.
“While we recognize that $1.2 million can only go so far, we are committed to our ongoing efforts to identify and access additional help for these families as soon as we possibly can. Providing this rental assistance is something we can do right now,” Truelove said.
HACA will manage the intake and processing of applications, determine applicant eligibility, and—upon approval—direct payments to landlords to help cover tenants’ rent obligations.
“The RENT Program is expected to help more than 1,000 families in our community stay in their homes during this difficult time,” said Michael Gerber, CEO of the Housing Authority of the City of Austin. “We applaud the Mayor and City Council providing critical funds for this emergency rental assistance program. While the needs in our community will likely far exceed the rent help available, HACA is committed to moving funds quickly to help as many Austin families as possible.”
Applicants not selected in the lottery will receive written notification from HACA, with a list of additional potential alternative resources. Should additional funding become available, all eligible Austin renters would be able to apply for subsequent lotteries or programs to ensure the broadest distribution of rental assistance possible.
Eligibility for Rental Assistance
Eligibility is limited to City of Austin households that are at or below 80 percent of the Median Family Income (see table below) who can document both a financial impact by COVID-19 and need of rent relief (e.g., paystubs, unemployment notice, notice of rent due, etc.). Applicants must also demonstrate that they are party to an existing lease agreement and are not recipients of other rental assistance programs.
Amount of Assistance Available
The amount of rental assistance will be determined either by the number of bedrooms in the apartment OR the actual monthly rent amount (per the current lease), whichever is LOWEST minus the 30 percent of the household’s gross monthly income (see table below).
City of Austin Mayor Steve Adler praised the collaborative nature of the program.
“With so many out of work, the cries for rent relief are loud and they are being heard. Thank you to the Housing Authority and the Austin Apartment Association for helping to rapidly deploy the RENT relief program for those in greatest need. This is our community coming together to get crucial work done,” said Adler.
Adler’s remarks were echoed by Austin Council Member for District 4 and Chair of the City of Austin Housing and Planning Committee Greg Casar.
“Addressing the crisis is a community issue. No one should lose their home because of the COVID crisis,” said Casar. “The City is here to help with the RENT program to provide Austinites the support they need paying May rent. For us to protect everyone’s housing stability, we also need landlords in the community to look for ways to offer additional relief through decreased rents and relaxed rules.”
Similar agreement was expressed by Austin Apartment Association Executive Vice President Emily Blair.
“Austin Apartment Association member staffs are working closely with families in their communities to help connect people with resources and meet immediate needs, so we know many people who need these funds,” said Austin Apartment Association Executive Vice President Emily Blair.
“Our property managers will be eager to share this rental assistance source with their residents in need. On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of residents in our communities, we thank the City of Austin for helping Austin renters remain safe in their homes and helping keep the City’s housing supply stable,” Blair said.
The following is from a communication from the office of Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett:
So many of our neighbors have sought ways to help others as we work together to reach the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic. Being a light for others is certainly a meaningful way to get through these difficult times. Understanding the challenges facing the many with lost jobs or weakened businesses, I include below some ways you can help that do not require contributing money.
Working with so many nonprofits, myself, I know a number, which continue doing so much good, have been forced to cancel fundraising events and suffer reduced donations. For those still fortunate enough to be able to offer financial support, I have collected some seeking your help here.
Food Banks You have seen the lines of cars waiting for help. With so much demand, more volunteers are needed.
Central Texas Food Bank Central Texas Food Bank is seeking volunteers. Visit the website here. Volunteer shifts have been adjusted to include fewer people and maximize social distancing and have even implemented a touch-free volunteer check-in system. Additional precautionary hygiene measures are in place to maintain the health and wellness of volunteer workforce as well as those that receive our food. Learn more about their safety measures here.
Hays County Food Bank Hays County Food Bank has opportunities for people with cars. In order to determine if you can volunteer, you must first answer a few screening questions. Learn more here.
Senior Access and Drive a Senior Central Texas Both programs seek volunteers for their Senior Buddy programs, in an effort to get essential goods and services to senior citizens who are at greater risk from the virus. Senior Access can be reached at its website here. Drive a Senior can be reached at its website here.
Aspire to Age Aspire to Age is in need of volunteers for 20-minute virtual phone check-ins with seniors. Their volunteer form can be found here. You can learn more about Aspire to Age and their services by visiting their website here.
We Are Blood A blood donation group with ongoing donor centers.
The North Lamar Location is located at 4300 N. Lamar Blvd, Austin.
The Round Rock Location is located at 2132 N. Mays, Suite 900.
The South Austin Location is located at 3100 W. Slaughter Lane.
They can all be reached at (512) 206-1266.
Additionally, they are collecting convalescent plasma donations from fully recovered COVID-19 individuals. This plasma is being used to treat patients currently fighting COVID-19. If you are a fully recovered COVID-19 patient and want to be considered as a convalescent plasma donor, learn more here.
Face Shield Project This Austin based volunteer organization is building improvised face shields by the thousands in partnership with the City of Austin, UT Dell Medical School and local companies. They provide all the tools, materials, training and a safe, physically distanced and hygienically supervised production space. Learn more about how to volunteer here.
Translators without Borders If you are fluent in at least one language other than your native language and would like to translate medical texts or translate for crisis response, complete the Translator Application Form here.
Generation Serve They have put a list of kid-simple activities for volunteering at home. See more here.
Make birthday cards for Pop-Up Birthday for children and teens in foster care – The cards can be simple or embellished. Write a small message inside and when you’re finished, mail them to Pop-Up Birthday at 101 Westlake Dr. Ste. 210, Austin, TX 78746.
Marbridge Foundation offers safe residential care for adults with cognitive disabilities. The residents typically have very active day-to-day lives and frequent visitors, but they have had to shelter in place without visitors recently. Please write up-lifting cards, filled with jokes and pictures, and send them to the residents of Marbridge, c/o Becca McPherson, PO Box 2250, Manchaca, TX 78652.
Nextdoor To help one’s nearby neighbors, an app I have seen recommended is Nextdoor. It has added a feature to help people coordinate offers of help. The Help Map, lets people say where they are and whether they need or can offer help, such as picking up groceries or taking a dog for a walk for an elderly neighbor. Sign up, address verification for Nextdoor’s community security. You can learn more here.
Let me know if you see a local resource missing about which I should be aware. Also, I continue to update my website coronavirus page website with helpful links, which you can view here.
We will get to the other side of this crisis, together.