Chaos for public schools

We all want schools to be open as soon as possible, but it has to be safe for students, as well as the faculty and staff.

Less than two weeks ago, Tarrant County public health officials ordered school buildings closed until late September, to hopefully allow for our dangerously high COVID-19 case counts to decline substantially. Our local schools were prepared to conduct all-virtual instruction for students in the meantime, with on-campus instruction for special needs students.

All of these plans were in accordance with the official guidance provided by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) less than two weeks ago — if local public health officials declared it was unsafe for schools to be open, as long as districts were providing virtual instruction, the state would continue to provide funding.

Last week, Attorney General Ken Paxton blew up the plans of school districts in Tarrant County and across the state when he issued a letter declaring public health authorities had no ability to close schools, unless there is already an infectious disease outbreak underway in those schools.

Even though Paxton’s letter is non-binding (it’s just his opinion and does not have the force of law), the TEA reversed course; no longer will schools be funded if closed because of a local health authority order.

Needless to say, this is a huge problem.

It won’t matter if a community is hitting record-breaking COVID-19 case numbers or hospitals are at capacity, schools will have to open their doors, or lose the funding they’re entitled to under state law and the Texas Constitution.

If we have learned anything during the COVID-19 pandemic, hopefully it is that we need to listen to scientists and doctors. The virus won’t magically “go away” just because we are tired of dealing with it. Believing myths like “kids can’t catch COVID” — they most definitely can and do — won’t make us safer. Denial and avoidance do not constitute a strategy for success. We need to rely on data and science and make decisions accordingly.

Speaking of people who have been slow to embrace science these past several tragic months, Governor Greg Abbott has been completely silent on Paxton’s letter and the TEA’s subsequent flip-flop this week. Of course, the TEA would not have made that decision without Abbott’s OK. If only he would own the decision, speak directly to Texans about it and provide some clarity! But instead, he is silent.

The result of this flawed decision-making is more confusion and chaos for parents, students, teachers and school administrators. It’s not fair and it’s a reflection of really poor leadership.

I know our schools will do the best they can in these really difficult circumstances. But Paxton and Abbott have made a challenging situation even more difficult. It didn’t have to be this way.

There must be justice and change

It has now been just over a week since we all first saw the video of George Floyd’s murder and listened to his final, strained words as he struggled to breathe. The video is heart-wrenching and shocking — but at the same time, it tells a story we have seen all too often before.

Next March marks the 30th anniversary of the Rodney King beating. I was a senior in high school at the time. This was long before social media of course, but I remember watching the horrific, grainy black and white video play on a loop on TV. Over and over again. It was good that it played over and over again — because, just like with what happened in Minneapolis last week, we all needed to see it.

The criminal justice system failed Rodney King that night in 1991. Then it failed him again a year later when his assailants were acquitted by a jury. And in the years since, we have seen many more black men and women become victims at the hands of those who were supposed to protect.

Eric Garner was killed by police when trying to break up a fight.

Tamir Rice, just a kid, was playing in the park.

Philando Castile was going to have dinner with his girlfriend.

Botham Jean was at home, sitting on his couch.

Atatiana Jefferson was babysitting her nephew.

Dominique Clayton and Breonna Taylor were both asleep in their beds.

These are just a few. There are many, many more — some names we know and more that we don’t.

Last week, Mr. Floyd’s 2nd grade teacher was interviewed and shared her memories of George. During the interview, she expressed her sadness that he was killed by a police officer. She went on to say:

“As teachers, we teach our children to find helpers when we are in trouble, to find the policeman. I wonder now, as I have been for some years, what do we teach our young black men? Who are the helpers for the young black men?”

When these injustices occur, I can’t help but to think about all those parents who are filled with a constant fear for their own children’s safety.

What can we do to create change?

We can raise our voices in protest to hold bad cops accountable and to combat systemic racism –- both of which are real.

We can encourage and protect the First Amendment rights of those protesting peacefully and with integrity.

We can condemn the actions of those who are taking advantage of this tragic time to loot, destroy and deface, which only serves to distract from real issues.

We can become helpers for the children, men and women who are marginalized and unprotected.

So let’s march, protest and speak out. Most importantly, let’s vote — not just in presidential elections, but also in state and local elections where the decisions affect us more directly and our votes matter even more.

Let’s work hard to ensure George Floyd’s untimely and unjust death was not in vain.

Too many of our communities here in Texas and across our country have been directly impacted by one of these tragedies. We all have a responsibility to do something about the pain and sadness felt by so many. That means using our platforms, our networks and our resources to ensure real, lasting solutions to prevent another inexcusable death like Mr. Floyd’s anywhere in America.

Four Days

If you’re like me, you’re tired of being at home! We all want to get out and most importantly, we all want to see all businesses reopened as quickly as possible, so all Texans can get back to work. Unfortunately, I fear Governor Abbott’s confusing, haphazard and disorganized plan is doing more harm than good.

Phase 1 of Abbott’s plan went into effect Friday. He said retail stores, restaurants and movie theaters could operate at 25% capacity. This was to be followed by a phase 2 that would go into effect no sooner than May 18th — once there was a couple of weeks of data and the state had determined that it is safe to move forward with increased occupancy rates and allowing additional types of businesses to open.

With Dallas County reporting its highest single-day increase with 237 new positive COVID-19 cases just three days following the start of phase 1 and Friday Tarrant County reporting 144 new positive cases, the data didn’t seem to be heading in the right direction.

I guess the Governor has information we’re just not privy to, because four days [read: not two weeks] after phase 1 took effectGovernor Abbott jumped ahead to phase 2.

So, starting tomorrow, swimming pools; barber shops; hair, nail and tanning salons will be permitted to open. On May 18th, gyms and other workout facilities will be added to that list, and as of Tuesday, outdoor seating at restaurants don’t have to comply with the 25 percent capacity rule.

There’s no other way to say it — these are dangerous decisions that will result in a spike in cases and more people getting sick.

Yesterday, I was on a call with local leaders and the discussion turned to whether or not these decisions could be reversed if there’s a spike in cases. In response, a public health expert said, “it will be very hard to put the genie back in the bottle.” He’s right. Unfortunately, there’s likely no turning back.

The premature nature of these decisions is coupled with the fact that there are few requirements that businesses must follow to keep employees and customers protected. Abbott’s plan lists only “minimum recommended” guidelines for cleaning, personal protection equipment (PPE) and other safety precautions. Because his executive order preempts local decision-making, cities’ and counties’ hands are tied and they can no longer do things like require people to wear masks. It’s a shame, because it will be the cities and counties and their public health departments that will absorb much of the impact when we see an increase in positive tests.

To be clear, I want everything reopened as soon as possible.

I am, however, opposed to doing so in a rushed and haphazard way, without the data trending in the right direction, before we have adequate testing and contact tracing in place, and before addressing the need for more PPE.

Yes, we may now be permitted to eat out, go to a movie and get a haircut. All of which sound pretty wonderful after nearly two months of staying at home.

Unfortunately, it’s too soon when the virus is still spreading quickly. For the safety of others and ourselves, let’s continue to stay home as much as possible.

IN THE NEWS: APRIL 24, 2020

As a friend and supporter, I want to keep you updated on the work that my fellow House Democrats and I are doing in response to COVID-19.

Below are some recent news clips that may be of interest to you.

Stay safe.

Chris


Texas House Democrats Want to Reopen Economy:
First, Abbott Must Increase
COVID-19 Testing & Expand Medicaid

KVUE / April 22, 2020
‘Texas is way behind’ | State lawmaker weighs in on lack of testing as Central 
Texas clinics ramp up efforts
“We have to have much more robust testing for COVID-19,” said Rep. Chris Turner (D-Texas 101). “We all want the economy reopened as quickly as possible.”


Baytown Sun / April 18, 2020
San Marcos Daily Record / Texas Press Association / April 21, 2020
Governor’s Orders Move State Toward Reopening
After Abbott’s news conference, Texas House Democratic Caucus Chairman Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, said, “We want the Texas economy to fully reopen as soon as possible, and public health experts agree that can only happen with robust testing in place. When it comes to decisions on how to defeat COVID-19, we have to continue to follow doctors’ orders.” Story also featured: The Colorado County Citizen / April 22, 2020Kilgore News Herald / April 22, 2020

Chambers Co. unable to secure virus tests, PPE
Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) sits as the Chair of the Democratic Caucus and called for additional testing in the state.

“Texas continues to be in the bottom three states when it comes to COVID-19 testing per capita, and Gov. Abbott has failed to provide a clear plan for how Texas will increase testing. We have heard that there are ‘encouraging signs’ more testing is coming, but it never seems to happen. We need to dramatically increase testing right now.”

NBC DFW / April 17, 2020
State Representative Says More Coronavirus Testing is Needed Before Texas Opens Businesses

“Before we can do that we’ve got to have widespread testing available,” Texas House Democratic caucus chairman Representative Chris Turner said. “We’ve got to improve our testing capacity because we just don’t know how widespread this COVID-19 virus is in Texas.”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram / April 17, 2020
Abbott unveils guidelines to reopen Texas businesses; schools closed for academic year
“We have heard for weeks that there are ‘encouraging signs’ more testing is coming, but it never seems to happen, We need to dramatically increase testing, right now,” Rep. Chris Turner, a Democrat from Grand Prairie and chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said in a statement after Abbott’s announcementStory also featured: MSN.com / April 17, 2020

Texas Tribune / April 17, 2020
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announces team to restart the economy, loosens some restrictions

After the news conference, state Rep. Chris Turner, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, issued a statement saying Abbott has failed to “provide a clear plan for how Texas will increase testing.” Story also featured: Corsicana Daily Sun / April 21, 2020

Austin American Statesman / April 17, 2020
Abbott faces crosswinds as he prepares plan to reopen Texas

“The governor is the chief executive of our state. He should be guided by science and make the right decisions no matter how many different places he feels pressure from, and it’s just vitally important that whatever decisions he’s made are in in the interests of the public health and are guided by public health experts and not by ideologically driven motivations which seem to be what some of the voices are driven by that we’re hearing,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

Dallas Observer / April 17, 2020
With Abbott On Deck, Democrats Roll Out Their Own Conditions for Getting Texas Reopened
“Here’s our concern today: On Tuesday this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who, of course, is our country’s top infectious disease expert, publicly warned that the nation was not ready to ease stay-at-home orders,” said Grand Prairie Democrat Chris Turner, the head of the Texas House Democratic Caucus. “His stance has been echoed by Texas public health experts, doctors and hospital officials … The bottom line is this: Texas needs to follow doctors’ orders when it comes to fighting the coronavirus. We all want business to reopen as soon as possible, but that can only happen when it is safe to do so.”

El Paso Times / April 17, 2020
Gov. Greg Abbott to open Texas economy in stages during COVID-19 crisis
“Texas needs to follow the doctor’s orders when it comes to fighting the coronavirus. We all want business to reopen as soon as possible, but that can only happen when it is safe to do so,” state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, the House Democrat Caucus chair.

KVUE / April 16, 2020
Texas House Democrats call on Gov. Abbott to take action before reopening businesses
“The bottom line is this: Texas needs to follow doctor’s orders when it comes to fighting the coronavirus,” State Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie), chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, said.

KXAN / Nexstar TV / April 16, 2020
Democrats, Republicans host town halls ahead of Gov. Abbott’s Friday address 
“We all want businesses to be able to open…but that can only happen when it’s safe to do so. These are things that are essential that Governor Abbott has to get right before we reopen,” Rep. Turner said.

NBC DFW / April 5, 2020
Lone Star Politics
“I think there’s a lot of work yet to be done. We know that Texas does need to obtain more PPE to get out to health care providers, hospitals and first responders and we learned yesterday or last week from president Trump that there’s not much in the federal stockpile, and not much made available to states, which is a complete failure of leadership on the federal level.”

Other News

Fort Worth Star-Telegram / April 21, 2020
Texas approved to let SNAP recipients get their groceries delivered amid coronavirus

And it comes weeks after 45 state lawmakers had sent a letter to Abbott on April 3, urging him to direct HHSC to take part in the pilot program. From the Tarrant County area, Reps. Chris Turner, a Democrat from Grand Prairie, Nicole Collier, a Democrat from Fort Worth, and Ramon Romero, a Democrat from Fort Worth, signed on.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram / April 16, 2020
More delays in the Census could affect redistricting and response rates in Texas
In each of the last two decades, state lawmakers have tackled redistricting in special sessions, and Rep. Chris Turner, a Democrat from Grand Prairie and vice-chair of the House Redistricting Committee, said if need be, the legislature can adapt.

“Ultimately if that was the situation that we found ourselves in, I’m confident that legislators would step up and confront the challenge and hopefully get the people’s business done,” Turner said.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram / April 15, 2020
GOP lawmakers call on Abbott to loosen restrictions, restart economy amid coronavirus
“This is crazy and completely contrary to all guidance being provided by public health experts and medical professionals,” Turner wrote. “It’s also disgraceful that members of the Texas House are using racial, dogwhistle language like ‘Wuhan virus.’”

Austin American Statesman / April 14, 2020
Census delay may lead to Summer 2021 redistricting session
“Historically, every time new decennial census data is released, the Texas Legislature has met and made the effort to draw maps,” Turner said. “This time will be no different.”

[COVID-19] FOLLOW DOCTORS’ ORDERS

On Friday, Governor Abbott signed an executive order creating his 49-member Strike Force to Open Texas “to advise the governor on safely and strategically restarting and revitalizing all aspects of the Lone Star State—work, school, entertainment, and culture.”

The first major announcement regarding the committee’s efforts will be made in less than a week — on Monday, April 27. In the days preceding, according to the order, the committee “will prepare a phased-in strategy to open Texas in a safe way.” We will have to wait and see what that means.

Ahead of the governor’s announcement on Thursday, the Texas House Democratic Caucus, which I chair, released the following recommendations focused on steps our state should immediately take to protect our neighbors and communities. These are also steps needed to understand the full scope of the impact of this pandemic in our state.

Increase COVID-19 Testing

  • On Tuesday, April 14, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert, publicly warned that the nation was not ready to ease stay-at-home orders, in part due to a lack of testing.
  • Currently, Texas ranks 49th nationwide in per capita testing. With estimates that as many as 25% of those infected are asymptomatic, testing is vital in order to contain and track the spread.

Following Governor Abbott’s announcement on Friday, I released the following statement in response and specific to the need for expanding testing:

HDC Quote

​​​​​Expand Medicaid to Secure Health Insurance for More Texans 

  • One-in-five Texans lack health care coverage; unfortunately, this is nothing new. We’ve been last in the number and rate of uninsured for years. That’s not due to lack of trying on the part of Democrats. In fact, last session, every House Democrat voted in favor of a measure to expand Medicaid.
  • We don’t need the Legislature to be in session to make this happen. The governor has the power — if he chooses to exercise it — to reduce the number of uninsured overnight by expanding Medicaid.

Secure Adequate Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) 

  • Recently, the Texas Medical Association surveyed 2,000 physicians, and only 63% said they had a week’s worth of PPE. We have also heard that many hospitals are not regularly receiving the supplies they need from the state. Among those hospitals that are, some are only receiving enough supplies to last for a few days.
  • To address the shortfall, medical providers and local governments are scrambling to find essential items — masks, gloves, gowns, and more. There’s inconsistent direction coming from the state regarding how this need will be fulfilled.

Increase Transparency in Long-term Care Facilities and Nursing Homes

  • We’ve heard a lot of news from other states about the devastating impact COVID-19 has had in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Texas has not been immune to this. In fact, the first person to die from COVID-19 in Tarrant County was a nursing home resident.
  • In Texas, 1 in 5 COVID-19 deaths are linked to nursing homes, and up to 1 in 3 deaths occurred in long-term care facilities. Without full reporting and/or adequate testing, that number may be even higher.
  • Families are struggling with how to make decisions in order to keep their loved ones protected, which is why transparent, reliable information is so essential.

We all want businesses to reopen as soon as possible. Let’s make sure it is safe when we do so though.

Stay safe.

[COVID-19] IMPORTANT UPDATES

The fast-paced nature of updates related to COVID-19 can be overwhelming, so we want to provide good information on additional resources as they become available.

My staff and I will continue to communicate on as many platforms as possible — via email and on my social media channels – FacebookInstagram and Twitter. We are also updating information on my website, including directly answering questions from the community.

Today’s email includes updates on childcare for essential workersTexas unemployment insurance, the payments resulting from the federal CARES Act and resources for small business owners.

If you have questions about COVID-19-related resources that haven’t been addressed in this email or elsewhere, please let us know via email at chris.turner@house.texas.gov.

CHILDCARE FOR ESSENTIAL WORKERS
Last week, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) announced the addition of a temporary class of employees to those who qualify for subsidized childcare. This includes those who work at grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, nursing homes, child care centers, and in home health care.

If you are an essential employee who resides in Tarrant County, click here to see if you qualify.

TEXAS UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE BENEFITS
A record number of Texans are filing for unemployment insurance benefits. As a result, capacity at call centers and on the website has been challenged. To address these issues, the agency is adding more staff and increasing their website’s capabilities.

In addition, the TWC has implemented a recommended call schedule for those seeking benefits. Applicants are asked to contact the TWC on certain days and times based on the first digit of their phone number. See the chart below.

To help answer questions about who can apply and what you will need when you apply, we have created a one-page document to answer these questions and more — click here and share with those who may be impacted and need additional information.

CARES ACT PAYMENTS 
In the coming weeks, people will begin to receive payments from the federal government as a result of the CARES Act. My office has received several questions about these payments, and although it is a federal program, I want to share what we know.

Individuals who earn less than $75,000 a year will receive $1,200. Couples who file their taxes as “married filing jointly” and earn less than a combined $150,000 will receive $2,400.

  • Families will receive an additional $500 for each child under the age of 17.
  • The payment amount will be reduced for those with incomes between $75,000 and $99,000. Married couples’ payments will be less for those with income between $150,000 – $198,000.
  • Those with an income of $99,000 or more will not receive a payment and the maximum income threshold to receive a payment for a family of four is $218,000.
  • There will be no payments to adults claimed as dependents.

Tax filings will be used as the source of income eligibility. There is no requirement to have filed your 2019 taxes to receive this payment, especially since the deadline has been pushed from April 15 to July 15. In lieu of a 2019 tax filing, 2018 tax filings will be used to determine income and delivery method (direct deposit or mail).

Americans who receive Social Security benefits, but don’t file annual tax returns, will receive benefits via the same delivery method they receive their monthly Social Security payments — by direct deposit or mail.

The timing of these payments is uncertain, but it has been reported that they could take several weeks before the money arrives in accounts and mailboxes.

AID TO SMALL BUSINESSES
House District 101 is fortunate to have many small businesses in our community. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit these businesses particularly hard. In response, the federal government has passed several measures to provide emergency economic aid.

On Friday, April 3, the Small Business Administration (SBA) began offering the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to provide small businesses with a direct incentive to keep their workers on the payroll. This program offers borrowers a loan of up to $10 million to cover eight weeks of payroll expenses. The loan has a 2-year term at 1.0% interest. Prospective borrowers can receive up to 2.5 times their average payroll, from the previous year, to use over the next 8 weeks following receipt of the loan.

The loan can be used for payroll costs, costs related to providing health care benefits, rent, mortgage interest, and utilities. The loan will be fully forgiven if 100% of the loan is used for the costs above, and the borrower maintains or rehires employees, while also maintaining salary levels. The level of forgiveness will decrease as the borrower’s ability to reach those goals decreases. Applicants apply for the loans directly from banks and other lenders. To find a participating lender near you, visit: https://www.sba.gov/paycheckprotection/find.

This Friday, April 10, those who are self-employed or independent contractors may apply for this program in order to cover payroll and certain other expenses.

In addition to the Paycheck Protection Program, there are several other SBA programs that small businesses may take advantage of:

  • The Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program provides non-profit and for-profit borrowers with up to $2 million over a 30-year term at 2.75% to 3.75% interest. The SBA is also offering an Economic Injury Disaster Loan Emergency Advance. That loan advance will provide borrowers with a loan advance of up to $10,000 for those applying for an EIDL program loan.
  • The SBA is also offering SBA Express Bridge Loans to small businesses who currently have a business relationship with an SBA Express Lender. Those small businesses will have access to up to $25,000 with a quick turnaround.
  • The SBA is offering debt relief to borrowers by automatically paying the principal, interest, and fees of current 7(a), 504, and microloans for a period of six months. The SBA will also automatically pay the principal, interest, and fees of new 7(a), 504, and microloans issued prior to September 27, 2020. Disaster loans are not eligible for debt relief under these rules.

Please keep in mind that if you are an eligible small business under SBA rules, you may use more than one of these programs to support your small business. There may, however, be additional terms associated with using more than one program. You can get additional info here or by calling the SBA Dallas-Fort Worth Office at 817-684-5500.

QUESTIONS FROM THE COMMUNITY
My staff has been compiling questions from constituents and others in our community and providing answers in response, posting these questions and answers in the hope that they may help others. These “Questions from the Community” serve as a FAQ of sorts and provide information about several areas impacted by the pandemic. If you’re interested in reading what has been compiled, click here.

Do you have a question about COVID-19 response that you would like answered? If so, email us at chris.turner@house.texas.gov.

Stay safe.

[COVID-19] QUESTIONS FROM THE COMMUNITY

Do you have a question? Click here

 

These answers are current as of Monday, April 6, 2020

Will there be a statewide shelter-in-place order? – Rudy M.
A: We usually hear the term “shelter-in-place” and it may remind us of tornado warnings or similar disasters. That’s not what this is. The Governor did not issue a shelter-in-place order, but it is essentially what others are calling a “stay-at-home” order: do not come in contact with others. The Governor’s message was somewhat confusing, but we all need to hold each other accountable and stay at home and avoid contact with others. I am counting on our community leaders to help spread that message.

Will there be a call to use the rainy day fund? – Rudy M.
A: With respect to the rainy day fund, there are two issues: the first is the impact that COVID-19 is having on our state economically. Everyone is hurting right now. Even our state and local governments are hurting. They’re not collecting sales tax, the state’s biggest revenue source. Second, because of Saudi Arabia and Vladimir Putin, the price of oil has dropped to $20 a barrel, and that’s a huge hit to the state’s general revenue — it negatively impacts the rainy day fund, because it’s in large part funded by the oil and gas industry. That said, the comptroller has said there should be billions of dollars in the rainy day fund, and we will likely use it to meet the state’s needs.

Can the state government preempt a county ordinance? – Lydia B.
A: The Governor has the authority to issue emergency orders and directives that can supersede local orders and directives. The decision with respect to houses of worship is confusing and problematic. Thankfully, several faith leaders have said they have no intention of congregating in person. I do know that the large counties and cities are trying to clarify how his order interacts with local orders.

I am concerned about COVID-19 testing availability in areas where minorities live. Because Grand Prairie has no public transit system, many cannot get to the testing location. Will Tarrant County get a drive-thru testing center? – Angela L.
A: To answer your question on transportation: that’s a huge problem in our community, whether we’re talking about people seeking healthcare or just trying to get to work — we have a shortage of transportation options. That said, if you’re sick and think you have COVID-19, we want you to avoid public transportation. If someone has COVID-19 symptoms and suspects they’ve been exposed, they should call their primary care physician, if they have one, and work with that office on transportation options.

Many Texans lack PCPs, however, for many reasons. If you are in Tarrant County and do not have a primary care physician, call a JPS health center.  In Dallas County, contact a Parkland health clinic. In Tarrant County, you may also call the Tarrant County COVID-19 Hotline: 817-248-6299.

On testing: there will not be any mobile or drive thru testing in this area – at least not in the immediate future. There are no Tarrant county testing sites, nor are there plans for one, as a result of a general lack of testing ability around the United States.

What is the total count of COVID Cases in the Grand Prairie, Texas area? How many cases are on the Tarrant County side of Grand Prairie and how many cases are on the Dallas County side?  – Linda E.
A: As of April 3, 2020, there are 43 cases of COVID-19 in Grand Prairie. There are 17 cases in the Tarrant County side of Grand Prairie, and 26 cases in the Dallas County side. Click here for Tarrant County cases / Click here for Dallas County cases 

What efforts are being taken to ensure our construction trades people are only being utilized for truly essential projects in Tarrant and surrounding communities? Currently I see workers (without representation) still working on schools, apartments, aesthetic roofing, sit work and the like although we have a formal shelter in place recommendation and these are not essential projects. These workers are without proper PPE and that is in direct violation of OSHA Federal standards. – Steve R.
A: Following Governor Abbott’s executive order regarding essential workers, Texas is required to follow the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) guidelines regarding the definition of the essential workforce. Although CISA states clearly that the list is advisory and not to be taken as a federal standard, this is what the state is now following. The CISA document lists those working construction as members of the essential workforce and does not make any exclusions or provide any more specific standards. The CISA document can be found here.

Will people on Social Security receive a $1200 check? What if these Social Security recipients do not file a tax return? – Roy M.
A: Yes, Social Security recipients will receive the money stemming from the CARES Act, even if they are not required to file a tax return. If they receive their Social Security payments via direct deposit, this payment will also be direct deposited.

As a small business owner, if I let one employee go, I will no longer be eligible for our health insurance plan, because I will no longer have the minimum number of employees required to have the plan. What can I do? – Marty M.
A: My office is in contact with the insurance provider regarding this specific situation. If you have a similar issue, please contact my office at 817-459-2800.

To aid small businesses (those with 500 or fewer employees) retain employees, the Small Business Administration
is offering the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This program offers borrowers a loan of up to $10M to cover 8 weeks of payroll expenses. The loan has a 2-year term at 1.0% interest. Prospective borrowers can receive up to 2.5 times their average payroll, from the previous year, to use over the next eight weeks following receipt of the loan. The loan can be used for payroll costs, costs related to providing health care benefits, rent, mortgage interest, and utilities. The loan will be fully forgiven if 100% of the loan is used for the costs above, and the borrower maintains or rehires employees, while also maintaining salary levels. The level of forgiveness will decrease as the borrower’s ability to reach those goals decreases.

For parents of high school students, what will be done to address AP testing and other testing if students cannot return to school?Stephanie S.
A: Testing is an issue on a lot of students’ and parents’ minds. There will be no STAAR test this year — that is one less thing students need to worry about. With respect to college AP tests, there will be online on-demand AP instruction provided by the College Board, which administers the test. The AP tests will be done online. Regarding school-specific finals and other tests, teachers and school districts will make those important decisions.

For students, is the legislature able to do anything regarding college costs and COVID-19? For example, submitting an enrollment fee for a university in May but then not being able to get there, or having to pay full tuition for a school that has moved online. Can the Legislature help protect students and families from these potential issues? – Steven C.
A: Representative Turner serves as the chair of the House Committee on Higher Education and we are closely following this issue. The Legislature does not have the ability to pass legislation outside of a legislative session, however, the governor can waive some regulations related to college students. Also, colleges/universities and corresponding systems have decision-making ability regarding how to proceed in light of the current situation. To aid students with questions such as these, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has compiled FAQs as well as a compilation of what institutions are doing in response to COVID-19. The list may be found here: http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/misc/coronavirus-update-for-higher-education/

If the school continues to be closed, what plan do they have for the kids to do their work? Are they planning on assignments or classes online? What’re we going to do? – Rachel A.
A: MISD spent the week of March 16th preparing teachers and principals for distance learning. Students and parents will be contacted by March 23rd. (https://www.mansfieldisd.org/parents-students/covid-19/distance-learning)

AISD has created an at-home learning hub, sectioned by grade level, with resources for students and parents to use so that students are able to continue their academic growth. (https://www.aisd.net/students/at-home-learning/)

If we have teenage kids who are able to drive can they bring their younger siblings without parents to pick up food at MISD locations?
A: Yes. Teenage children may drive younger siblings to designated food delivery sites.

How are school districts going to provide instructions to children with more significant special needs and who are going to be placed in more contained settings? – Debbie W.
A: Schools are required to provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to all students in the district or school who receive special education and related services. Schools that close campuses and establish virtual learning environments or other alternative educational delivery methods, must ensure that planning addresses the provision of all services required in each student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), including both instructional and related services. TEA will provide further guidance as it becomes available. TEA Link Here

Where can someone be tested if they do not have a PCP/insurance? – Melissa D.
A: Please call a JPS Community Based Clinic. JPS has requested those seeking tests do not go directly to the JPS emergency room. https://www.jpshealthnet.org/locations

I am concerned about COVID-19 testing availability in areas where minorities live. Because Grand Prairie has no public transit system, many cannot get to the testing location. Will Tarrant County get a drive-thru testing center?
– Angela L.
A: To answer your question on transportation: that’s a huge problem in our community, whether we’re talking about people seeking healthcare or just trying to get to work — we have a shortage of transportation options. That said, if you’re sick and think you have COVID-19, we want you to avoid public transportation. If someone has COVID-19 symptoms and suspects they’ve been exposed, they should call their primary care physician, if they have one, and work with that office on transportation options.

Many Texans lack PCPs, however, for many reasons. If you are in Tarrant County and do not have a primary care physician, call a JPS health center.  In Dallas County, contact a Parkland health clinic. In Tarrant County, you may also call the Tarrant County COVID-19 Hotline: 817-248-6299.

On testing: there will not be any mobile or drive thru testing in this area – at least not in the immediate future. There are no Tarrant county testing sites, nor are there plans for one, as a result of a general lack of testing ability around the United States.

I am concerned about trying to re-enter into “normal” daily life. How will we prevent re-infection? Do we have anyone looking into that process? – Patricia L.
A: We need to carefully follow the advice of public health experts. Frankly, it took too long to listen to epidemiologists and that is why it is hitting the US worse than other countries. Cases may abate well into the summer, but may come back again, so we just do not know. This virus will recur; it is not the flu. Public experts seem to agree that the COVID-19 vaccine won’t be available until about a year from now. It may be a long time before it’s available.

Can someone contract COVID-19 more than once?Jarrette H.
A: I have read reports about people who’ve had COVID-19, recovered and then got it again, but these are isolated reports. That said, some doctors have speculated that once one gets COVID-19 and recovers, they do build up some immunity. But experts that study this say that they really do not know yet because it is so new and behaves so differently from influenza and other viruses that public health experts are more familiar with. We will continue to learn about this in the months ahead. 

What is the total count of COVID Cases in the Grand Prairie, Texas area? How many cases are on the Tarrant County side of Grand Prairie and how many cases are on the Dallas County side?  – Linda E.
A: As of April 3, 2020, there are 43 cases of COVID-19 in Grand Prairie. There are 17 cases in the Tarrant County side of Grand Prairie, and 26 cases in the Dallas County side. Click here for Tarrant County cases / Click here for Dallas County cases 

I have a question concerning the face mask If it is true that droplets can stay in the air for even five minutes after a cough, would it be prudent that Texans use face masks when they go to the grocery stores, to flatten the curve? – Ann O.
A: The most up-to-date info regarding transmission will be found on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website. Recently, they added the following recommendation:
Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others: 

  • You could spread COVID-19 to others even if you do not feel sick.
    • Everyone should wear a cloth face cover when they have to go out in public, for example to the grocery store or to pick up other necessities.
    • Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
    • The cloth face cover is meant to protect other people in case you are infected.
    • Do NOT use a facemask meant for a healthcare worker.
    • Continue to keep about 6 feet between yourself and others. The cloth face cover is not a substitute for social distancing.

Can an animal contract the virus and transmit it to the person? – Shirley C.
A: There have been no reports of pets or livestock becoming ill or spreading the coronavirus in the U.S. Likewise, the World Health Organization has stated that there is no evidence that dogs or cats have become ill with this particular virus. https://www.aspca.org/news/coronavirus-keeping-your-pets-safe-during-covid-19-crisis

Is there a vaccine available? How soon would it come to the U.S. and be available widely? – Azul R.
A: There is not a vaccine available yet. Most estimates predict it will be at least a year before there’s a vaccine that could potentially be used. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/prevention.html

What are details about children carrying the disease without being sick? Does this change with asthma or other pre-existing condition? Are there any symptoms to be aware of if a child has just gotten back from a cruise? – Raquel S.
A: What has been noted is that children have had a milder form of the illness. They’re young, they’re healthy, their bodies are resilient, so it makes sense that we see that happen. The disease is not dormant, there are just often mild symptoms that are seen at this time of year anyway, like a cough or mild fever. Regardless, children need to take the same precautions as any other person, as they can still become seriously ill and/or transmit the virus to others.

Does the rain have an effect on the virus in any way? Is it safer to go out when it rains? – Michael B.
A: Rain does not appear to impact the Coronavirus. https://www.nbc4i.com/news/local-news/how-does-weather-affect-the-spread-of-coronavirus/

Day care facilities are still open. Will there be a mandate to close them? – Audrey
A: At this time, there is no plan to require the closure of daycare facilities. New state regulations mandate checking the temperature of each child at drop-off. Any child with a temperature over 100.4 will not be able to be cared for at the facility that day. https://hhs.texas.gov/about-hhs/communications-events/news/2020/03/hhs-monitors-covid-19-provides-new-guidance-child-care-facilities

There are many individuals in Tarrant county who would like to volunteer to assist healthcare professionals, where can they sign up to get training to be available to help out either with screening, testing or providing meals to those that are in quarantine? Janet M
A: Yes, visit Bealocalhero.org to learn more about how you can help.

Will retired combat medics be recalled to help with the influx of patients? I have CBRNE and experience with mass casualties as well as setting up field hospitals. – Susan M.
A: Yes, visit Bealocalhero.org to learn more about how you can help.

What efforts are being taken to ensure our construction trades people are only being utilized for truly essential projects in Tarrant and surrounding communities? Currently I see workers (without representation) still working on schools, apartments, aesthetic roofing, sit work and the like although we have a formal shelter in place recommendation and these are not essential projects. These workers are without proper PPE and that is in direct violation of OSHA Federal standards. – Steve R.
A: Following Governor Abbott’s executive order regarding essential workers, Texas is required to follow the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) guidelines regarding the definition of the essential workforce. Although CISA states clearly that the list is advisory and not to be taken as a federal standard, this is what the state is now following. The CISA document lists those working construction as members of the essential workforce and does not make any exclusions or provide any more specific standards. The CISA document can be found here.

ARE TENANT EVICTIONS SUSPENDED DURING CRISIS TO ENSURE LOW-INCOME FAMILIES THAT ARE LOSING INCOME ARE NOT MADE HOMELESS? – JANET M.
A: Following the Governor’s Emergency Order the Texas Supreme Court issued guidance that while courts will still accept eviction filings, all eviction proceedings, deadlines, issuance, and service of citation are temporarily suspended until April 19, 2020, except in cases where there is a threat of physical harm or criminal activity. https://www.txcourts.gov/media/1446203/209045.pdf and https://gov.texas.gov/news/post/governor-abbott-issues-statement-on-texas-supreme-court-temporary-suspension-of-residential-eviction-proceedings 

WHAT ABOUT THE HOMELESS? – SHARON L.
A: There is a concerted effort with healthcare providers that serve the homeless community. There has been a coordinated effort through the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition to address the specific needs of the homeless including those who are in shelters, and those who are not. https://ahomewithhope.org/education/coronavirus-resources/


What is being done regarding mail-in ballots? We need to make sure everyone is able to vote. – Pam P.
A: We have a lot of work to do to protect our elections. I have a couple points, first, the run-off election scheduled for May 26th has been postponed until July 14th; this was a decision made by the Governor. Right now, the Texas Democratic Party has an active lawsuit to allow further access to vote-by-mail. Last week (April 3, 2020), the Secretary of State’s office released guidance regarding upcoming elections. It may be found here. We will update this site with more information once we better understand what this guidance entails.

On the national level, Speaker Pelosi is also talking about voting by mail, which would be safer and certainly ensure more access to voting. This country could develop a secure way to cast a ballot online — I hope this crisis forces a conversation on that. But for this year, I hope we move to a mail ballot. 

What is the best way to refocus on the Census? – Byron and Sharon T.
A: An accurate Census — ensuring that everyone is counted — is more important than ever. This count is used to determine billions of dollars in spending for education, healthcare, transportation and much more for the next ten years. Spreading that message to your family, friends and members of the community in ways that promote social distancing – phone, email, etc. – is essential. Our state is lagging behind many others in its Census response rate and with money not invested by the Legislature to promote the 2020 Census, we could lose significant future funding, estimated at $300 million lost each fiscal year for every 1% of Texans not counted. Visit 2020Census.org today.

What should we do if we suspect a local store is inflating their prices as a result of COVID-19?
A: Texans who believe they have encountered price gouging should call the Office of the Attorney General’s toll-free complaint line at (800) 621-0508 or file a complaint online. It is helpful to take a picture of the item, as well as the inflated price.

I am concerned about the treatment of the Asian community during this crisis. – Matthew L.
A: People are wrongly connecting COVID-19 to the Asian community — this is based on false information. This virus does not discriminate — it affects everyone. I am really saddened to see hate crimes being persecuted against the Asian community (not in HD101) right now. We all need to support one another.

Are day habilitation facilities that serve members of the IDD community, specifically adult day facilities, considered essential? Can they remain open?
A: At the state level, additional guidance to licensed service providers has been issued, but nothing requires these facilities to remain open. Those who qualify for adult day services may be eligible for other Medicaid services, such as home attendants. Please contact your caseworker regarding a temporary increase in hours. Impacted constituents are encouraged to reach out to our office as well. 

In addition, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, the federal government expanded paid sick leave protections and benefits. These protection and benefits may apply to family members in this circumstance who must stay home as a result of care facility closure. Contact your federal representative for details.

Q: WHAT ARE SANITATION REQUIREMENTS FOR GAS STATIONS/BATHROOMS? – LEATHA J.
A: DSHS regulates public restrooms. Any questions or concerns should be directed to: Public Sanitation and Retail Food Safety Unit at (512) 834-6788 or by email at PHSCPS@dshs.texas.gov. The link to additional information is as follows: https://www.dshs.texas.gov/phs/Public-Restrooms—Public-Health-Sanitation-Program.doc.

Q: ARE ENTITIES CREATING COMMUNICATIONS IN MULTIPLE LANGUAGES? – JOANNA C.
A: Rep. Turner’s website provides some information in Spanish, Vietnamese, and Chinese. See fact sheets at https://votechristurner.com/covid-19-local-resources/. We are currently in the process of compiling additional information in multiple languages to add to the resource page.

Q: TWO DOCTORS IN ARLINGTON WILL NOT BE TAKING ANY MORE APPOINTMENTS, WILL BE 3-4 WEEKS. WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO FOR HEALTHCARE NEEDS FOR NORMAL MEDICAL NEEDS? – CHARLES W.
A: If you are in acute need, contact your primary care physician and ask for guidance. If you do not have a PCP, contact a JPS Community Based Clinic.

Q: WILL MAIL CARRIERS ARE BEING PROTECTED IN ANY WAY? – AUDREY B.
A: Mail carriers are being asked to press on in the face of this virus but are also to be taking sick leave liberally. https://link.usps.com/2020/03/09/coronavirus-update-2/  https://about.usps.com/newsroom/statements/usps-statement-on-coronavirus.htm

Q: WILL THERE BE COUNSELING SERVICES PROVIDED? – CHERYL S.
A: This is a very stressful time for many in our community. If you need to speak with someone, contact Tarrant County MHMR at 817-335-3022 or 1-800-866-2465. They are available to help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Find Your Polling Place

Click here for HD 101 locations: Tarrant County Voting Locations

For polling locations outside of Tarrant County, visit www.mytexasvotes.com.

Final days to vote early

Today and tomorrow are the final two days to vote early in the 2020 Democratic primary election. I can’t stress the importance of this election enough — as the second largest Super Tuesday state, with 228 delegates at stake — Texas will play a pivotal role in deciding our party’s nominee, which could very well determine our nation’s trajectory for generations to come.

A few weeks ago, I sent you an email about my decision to endorse Joe Biden.

To recap what I wrote and why he continues to have my support, as a senator and then as vice president, Joe Biden has distinguished himself as an outstanding public servant.  He’s always been a powerful voice for working class Americans.  He passed the Violence Against Women Act.  He took on the NRA – and beat them – to pass the Brady background check bill.  And as President Obama’s right hand for eight years, Joe Biden helped pass the reforms that saved the auto industry, stabilized our economy and brought health insurance to millions of Americans.  His is a record of service and results.

Perhaps most importantly, Joe Biden personifies decency. Our nation has never needed a dose of decency and honesty in the White House as we do right now.

Of course, the presidential race isn’t the only important contest on the ballot – there are many, including two statewide candidates that I’d urge you to consider supporting.

Royce West for the United States Senate
In the Texas Legislature, I have been privileged to work side-by-side with Senator West on many important issues facing our state. I’ve seen first-hand his stalwart support of expanding educational opportunities and reforming our criminal justice system.

In a very crowded field, he has been endorsed by The Dallas Morning NewsFort Worth Star-Telegram and Houston Chronicle because he has the experience and knowledge our state needs in Washington.

West DMN

Amy Clark Meachum for Chief Justice, Texas Supreme Court
Amy Clark Meachum is running for an often overlooked, but very important, statewide position – Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court. I’ve gotten to know Judge Meachum well during my time in the Legislature. As a district court judge, she has proven that she has the knowledge and experience to take on such a vital role, which is why she’s been endorsed in this race by The Dallas Morning NewsSan Antonio Express NewsEl Paso Times and the Houston Chronicle.

Meachum SAEN

I hope you will consider these recommendations when you go vote.

Early voting runs through tomorrow, Friday, February 28. Election Day is Tuesday, March 3. Polls are open from 7:00 AM – 7:00 PM.

For polling locations visit: mytexasvotes.com.

We can – and must – make college more accessible

Recently, the Dallas Morning News highlighterankings released by Dallas-based ScholarShot.com.  The study listed the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of North Texas at Dallas as the top Texas institutions at addressing the needs of first-generation, low-income college students.

Why is this so important and why are the support services offered by these institutions so critical to the future success of our state? 

As our state economy changes, the need for Texans with college degrees or professional certifications increases.  To meet these needs, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board set the goal that by the year 2030, at least 60 percent of those ages 25-34 need to have completed a college degree or certification.  This is based on data from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, that estimates that about 60 percent of new jobs will require higher education credentials and skills.  

Since this goal was put on paper in 2015, our state has made progress, due in large part to the commitment of institutions like UTA, UNT-Dallas and many others.  However, even with this improvement, we’re still not where we need to be.

According to data through 2017, only 43.5 percent of 25-34 year-olds have completed a certificate or degree.  With just ten short years left to reach our goal, we must find even more new tools to help these students succeed.

Two weeks ago, I participated in a roundtable discussion with former Tennessee governor Bill Haslam, hosted by the Dallas-based Commit Partnership.  During his time as governor, this conservative Republican made access to higher education for low-income residents a priority.  Under his leadership, the state implemented the Tennessee Promise, a program that provides last-dollar scholarships to students attending two-year public colleges.  Last-dollar scholarships cover the gap between the amount covered by other financial aid sources and the total cost of tuition and fees.

The Tennessee Promise doesn’t stop there.  The program provides additional support via mentors for each student to help guide them from the application and admissions process on through their college career.  It’s been so successful that over 90,000 Tennesseans have taken part since 2014 with those participating completing degrees at a higher rate than their non-participant peers. 

Similar initiatives are happening here in Texas at the local level to help reduce the financial burden on students and to provide more support to at-risk populations. These initiatives are a great start, but with Texas’ growing and diverse population, we must do much more. 

Just as we have a statewide, strategic goal for college completion, we need to have a statewide strategic plan for meeting that goal.  Maybe we could learn something from Tennessee.

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