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Rep. Ray Russell’s April 21st Newsletter on Coronavirus Updates, Announcements and Info

Spread of Coronavirus
Across the United States, as of Tuesday afternoon, April 21, the number of people who are confirmed to have coronavirus is 815,491. We are sure more people have the virus who have not been tested. Sadly, 45,097 people have died from coronavirus. That’s more than 2500 deaths in the past 24 hours.
In North Carolina the number of people who are “laboratory-confirmed” to have coronavirus is 7,099. Currently, 427 people are hospitalized with coronavirus. To date, 235 North Carolinians have died from coronavirus.
Eight Watauga County residents have tested positive for coronavirus. Four Ashe County residents have tested positive. So far, every person in Ashe and Watauga County who tested positive had either traveled outside the counties or was in contact with a person known to have the virus. We have gone more than one week without any new cases in these two counties.
Our prayers are with all these people affected by coronavirus along with their families.
Stay at Home Order
I’m sure you have questions about what will happen at the end of this month when many Executive Orders expire. I must confess that I have no crystal ball. I refer you to Governor Cooper’s press conference and the framework he laid out for what how those decisions will be made. I covered his press conference in the April 16 Newsletter (see https://www.facebook.com/RayRussellforNC/posts/2793802034063705).
I am encouraged because we have some of the best people in the country making these decisions. I have full confidence in them and am thankful that they are here in this most difficult time. Know that when decisions are announced, I will describe them clearly and honestly in a newsletter at that time.
But most importantly right now, each one of us needs to be making good decisions: staying at home, wearing a cloth mask when we must go out, social distancing, washing hands, cleaning common surfaces, etc. Every good decision we make takes us collectively to where we want to be–healthy and re-engaging in the economy.
NC Small Business Emergency Loan Bill
The House COVID-19 Economic Support Working Group met today. The committee voted for a bill that would provide $75 million in new Small Business Loans. This bill be probably be voted on in the NC Legislature next week. If approved in its present version, the bill would provide $75 million in emergency small business loans. The loans would be for up to $50,000 per business and are limited to businesses with 100 employees or less. The loan repayment period is 66 months. More details are available at https://www.ncleg.gov/documentsites/committees/house2019-199/Economic%20Support%20Working%20Group/April%2021,%202020/2019-MCa-210B-SMMC-13%20v4.pdf, and be on the lookout for approval next week. More information about the Golden Leaf Foundation can be found at https://www.goldenleaf.org/
Tremendous Progress in Unemployment Processing
Mr. Lockhart Taylor, Assistant Secretary, Department of Enrollment Security (DES), reported impressive progress in processing unemployment claims.
Before describing the progress, let’s recap the available unemployment programs:
  • Pre-covid Unemployment Compensation: This program was in place before the pandemic. In North Carolina, the maximum benefit is $350/week for 12 weeks.
  • Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC): Provides an additional $600 in weekly unemployment insurance benefits paid for weeks after March 29, 2020. The program is slated to end July 31, 2020.
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC): Provides up to 13 additional weeks of unemployment insurance benefits.
  •  Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA): Provides unemployment compensation for individuals not eligible for regular unemployment insurance or any extensions to unemployment insurance. This would provide coverage to eligible self-employed workers, independent contractors, and unemployed non-profit workers who are not typically eligible for unemployment insurance.
DES is processing claims for all but the PUA program right now. To date, they have received 689,000 claim applications. Claims continue to come at unprecedented rates; for example, yesterday, they received 17,000 claims. But in the last four weeks, DES has already paid 257,000 people a total of $578 million in unemployment compensation including $389 million in the last 5 days through FPUC. 20,000 new claimants are receiving benefits every day.
Call centers have been brought online at an amazing pace. Today, they have 390 operators answering calls. Beginning Friday, they will have 1020 operators trained to answer unemployment-related calls. Friday they will have capacity to answer 33,000 calls per day.
If you are struggling to access the DES system or get questions answers, email my office with your contact information and a description of the problem. We will get you in touch the right people. Send the information to Ray.Russell@ncleg.net.
DES will start taking claims for the PUA program Friday, April 24. This is so important because it covers self-employed workers, independent contractors, and unemployed non-profit workers. Watch https://des.nc.gov/need-help/covid-19-information/federal-unemployment-assistance#are-church-employees-eligible-for-federal-unemployment-assistance? when the program goes “live” Friday.
Financial Assistance to Furloughed Employees
Yesterday, Governor Cooper signed an Executive Order authorizing employers to give financial assistance to furloughed workers. Before this order, any financial assistance from employers to furloughed employees made the employees ineligible for unemployment compensation. Specific rules apply! If you are employer seeking to help your unemployed workers, see the Executive Order for details (https://files.nc.gov/governor/documents/files/EO134-UI-Furlough.pdf).
Regulation and Deadline Modifications
The House COVID-19 Continuity of State Operations Working Group met today to consider legislation that modifies a long list of regulations. These modifications are needed because of coronavirus and social distancing: notaries, delayed deadlines for taxes and fees, waiver of interest and penalties for what would otherwise be late payments, issuing marriage licenses, deferred health insurance payments, virtual governmental meetings and open meeting laws, and much more. If you are interested, want to see the scope of the bill, and have plenty of time see https://www.ncleg.gov/documentsites/committees/house2019-199/Continuity%20of%20State%20Operations%20Working%20Group/4-21-20/2019%20%20-STfzp-Bill%20summary.pdf. However, many amendments were made to this bill in committee. This bill will be presented to the NC Legislature next week for further amendments and a vote.
More Information
If you believe you have symptoms of coronavirus and live in Watauga County:
1) Call AppHealthCare at 828-264-4995 or (828) 795-1970 during regular business hours,
2) Visit https://apprhs.org/covid19-screening/ online and follow screening instructions, or
3) Call your primary care doctor.
If you believe you have symptoms of coronavirus and live in Ashe County call AppHealthCare at 336-246-9449 or call your primary care doctor.
Our public heath office, AppHealthCare, is the primary local source of information about coronavirus. See https://www.apphealthcare.com/covid-19-information/
For more information from our hospitals, see Appalachian Regional’s website at https://apprhs.org/COVID19/ or Ashe Memorial Hospital’s website at https://www.ashememorial.org/ for their updates.
For information specific to North Carolina, the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) provides the latest information on COVID-19 at https://www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/public-health/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-response-north-carolina. Also, North Carolina coronavirus updates are available by calling 888.892.1162 or by texting COVIDNC to 898211