Gov. Abbott Extends Disaster Declaration, Announces More Food Aid

As the entire county watches to see if the peak of COVID-19 cases has been reached, or if numbers will continue to rise, news regarding businesses reopening, schools, and more comes quickly and often. These are your bullet points for the day:

  • Gov. Abbott extends disaster declaration, announces more food aid
  • New cases slightly lower Tuesday, but not by much
  • TEA offers opt-in end-of-year testing options
  • Allred, Johnson ask feds to continue testing in Dallas County
  • Several local entities turned to one small bank for loan help

Gov. Abbott Extends Disaster Declaration, Announces More Food Aid

 Gov. Greg Abbott extended his COVID-19 disaster declaration statewide Tuesday.

Originally issued on March 13 and extended on April 12, the declaration – which is not the same as a shelter-in-place order – allows the state to utilize resources from the federal government and state to help combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“As we continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, our top priority remains the health and safety of all Texans,” said Abbott. “By extending the disaster declaration, we are ensuring that Texas has the resources and capabilities in place to safely and strategically open the state while containing the spread of this virus.

“As we move forward in our response, I urge all Texans to continue following the health and safety guidelines laid out by the CDC and Texas’ team of medical experts.”

Abbott also announced that the state Health and Human Services Commission received federal approval to provide more than $1 billion in food benefits through the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program to families who rely on free or reduced-cost meals at school due to school closures.

P-EBT provides a one-time benefit of $285 per child, which can be used in the same way as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food benefits to pay for groceries. The HHSC, the Texas Department of Agriculture, and the Texas Education Agency will administer the program.

“I thank the U.S. Department of Agriculture for providing these emergency benefits to Texas families, and for the swift action of our state agencies to administer these benefits across the state,” said Abbott. “This program will expand access to healthy and nutritious food for families and children in need as the state continues to respond to COVID-19.”

“Families across our state have had to rapidly adjust to the impacts of this pandemic and we’re thankful to our many state and federal partners who were able to work together for our fellow Texans,” said HHS Executive Commissioner Phil Wilson. “These emergency benefits will provide additional assistance to those families on free and reduced-price meal plans, giving greater access to nutritious food for children most in need.”

“Despite this crisis, the one thing that never changes is that children need to eat,” said Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

Households with school children who received SNAP food benefits for the month of March or were recipients of free or reduced-price meals at school before the statewide school closure are eligible for P-EBT benefits. Families who were certified for the free or reduced-price school meals program after in-person instruction at schools ended because of COVID-19 are also eligible to receive the benefit.

Families with children aged 5 to 18 who received SNAP food benefits for the month of March, when school campuses first closed, will automatically receive P-EBT on their current Lone Star Card by May 22.

Families who have children certified for free or reduced-price meals during the 2019-20 school year but did not receive SNAP benefits for the month of March will need to apply.

Families with children who received meals at no cost to them because their schools are defined as Community Eligibility Provision or Provision II schools also need to apply. Those families will receive a notification from their school district by May 31 which will include eligibility information and how to access the application. The application will be open from June 1 to June 30, and applications will be processed in the order they are received.

New Cases Slightly Lower Tuesday, But Not By Much

Dallas County officials reported that there were an additional 236 additional positive cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, bringing the county’s total count to 6,359.

Three additional deaths were also reported, bringing that total to 148. Those deaths include a Dallas woman in her 40s, an Irving man in his 50s who died at an area emergency room, and a Dallas woman in her 60s.

“Today’s number of positive cases is the lowest we have seen in over a week but still within the range we’ve experienced for the last nine days. We lost three more residents yesterday,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.  “Yesterday, we unveiled a color-coded system prepared by medical experts at area hospitals to help residents make choices about engaging in activities. The document is called Dallas County COVID-19 Health Guidance for the Public.

“Our current status is RED which means residents should avoid crowds, maintain 6 feet of distance, wear a cloth covering at businesses or on public transportation as well as practice good hygiene.”

In his evening newsletter, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said that 25 hospitals reported their bed availability Tuesday. Of the 5,713 total beds, 60% are occupied. Of the 827 ICU beds available, 64% (or 533) are occupied. And 340 of the total 940 ventilators available are currently in use.

Of cases requiring hospitalization who reported employment, the county says that about 80% have been critical infrastructure workers including those in healthcare (18%), transportation (16%), food and agriculture – which includes grocery stores and places you can buy food (15%), public works (8%), finance (5%), communications (4%), teachers, real estate, and clergy (8%), and first responders (3%).

The county does not count recoveries because it’s not a variable being used nationally by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nor by state health departments. However, one can extrapolate that the 81% of total cases that have not been hospitalized – at the very least – are on their way to recovery or have recovered, county officials explained recently.

“The exact number of patients who have been released from area hospitals to continue their recovery at home is not available at this time,” Lauren Trimble, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins’ chief of staff, said.

TEA Provides Opt-In End-of-Year Testing Options

The Texas Education Agency announced Tuesday that it would provide optional end-of-year assessments for school districts and parents that are worried about potential gaps as students are educated at home during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The optional test does not take the place of the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR), which was canceled by Gov. Greg Abbott this year.

“Educators across Texas have voiced concerns that their students may not be making as much academic progress as they should because of the disruption caused by COVID-19,” the agency said in its announcement. “Researchers have noted that in some cases students could see significant academic declines, dubbing it a potential ‘COVID Slide.'”

The TEA said it would not be requiring the assessments, and would not be collecting testing data for accountability purposes.

Parents can register their child for the assessments now through June 5. The tests can be administered at home through June 12. There will be an online version and a printable PDF version.

For information, the agency has provided an EOY Assessment FAQs.

Allred, Johnson Ask Feds to Continue Testing Program in County

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30) and U.S. Rep. Colin Allred (TX-32) Tuesday sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency urging the federal government to continue to support Dallas County by providing 1,000 tests a day to support community-based testing sites. The agreement to provide testing materials is set to expire on May 30, 2020.

Monday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins warned that the federal government plans to pull COVID-19 tests from two local sites by the end of the month, which puts the county at risk of losing 1,000 tests per day.

“Yesterday, Dallas County reported 253 new COVID-19 cases, tying the record of daily positive new cases set on May 5, 2020. For the last nine consecutive days, the county has reported more than 230 new COVID-19 cases each day,” Allred and Johnson said in their joint announcement. “The test kits and lab services provided at the two CBTS are key resources for the Dallas community.

“North Texas cannot afford to lose federal support at this time, which is why we are respectfully requesting that FEMA and HHS continue their federal support of the two CBTS locations in Dallas.”

See the full text of the letter below and download a version here.

Small-Town Bank Became Go-To For Several Dallas Entities

When it came time for small businesses to apply for Small Business Administration loans under the CARES Act, many found themselves going through a lot of confusing effort for naught.

But a little bank in Rockwall County became the go-to for several local entities and small businesses, including the Dallas Zoo and Dwell With Dignity.

“While we offer the same services as major institutions, we look at the market through a small bank lens. Every client receives the same level of personal attention,” said Lakeside President and CEO Paul Haney.

Haney said that when big banks were implementing two-tier systems to determine whose applications would go first, his bank gave all loans the same priority.

Lakeside was where Ailsa Ellis, who owns Layette in the Shops of Highland Park, found the assistance she needed to complete her application – even though she didn’t usually do business with the bank.

“Since opening the doors to my small children’s shop eight years ago, I fulfilled my business banking needs through a large national bank,” the children’s boutique owner said. “During the uncertainty of COVID 19 and applying for the Payroll Protection Program, I quickly learned that a big national bank was not the best fit for helping my small, local business.”

Dwell with Dignity also turned to the bank to keep afloat so they could continue to create homes for families struggling with homelessness – as did the Dallas Zoo, who needed to find funding while its gates remained closed.

“Because of them, we are able to keep our entire small staff employed and actively engaged in transforming the lives of mothers and children who have fought their way out of poverty,” executive director Ashley Sharp said.

“As a non-profit that relies heavily on ticket sales and donations, having our gates closed for the last six weeks has had a significant impact on our bottom line,” said Dallas Zoo president and CEO Gregg Hudson, who said that the smaller bank’s assistance “was invaluable to us.”

According to the Small Business Administration’s data, loans of more than $1 million made up just 4 percent of those approved but made up 45 percent of the dollars distributed. Several news reports have documented the struggles smaller businesses have had in applying for the loans, often ending up in line behind larger applicants.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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