2020 Session Pause- Week 7

 Legislative Update:

This week the Governor said she will submit an updated budget to the Legislature based on current economic conditions and understanding that state tax collections have dropped approximately 48% over the past month. She announced she will not include the Invest in Iowa Initiative to fund the IWILL Trust as part of her proposal.

On Wednesday, 4/29 the Legislative Council met via teleconference and unanimously voted to extend the session pause until May 15. They will likely not return before the beginning of June but are currently assessing the logistics of returning to the Capitol. Senator Whitver said prior to returning the Legislature will need additional information related to the CARES Act and the state fiscal outlook. They have not determined whether REC will meet again, but Leadership is in communication with Dir. Roederer, Dept. of Management, about budget projections. Leadership expects a quick and efficient return, and that those in the Capitol will be limited to essential individuals.

Sen. Petersen and Rep. Prichard released a joint letter outlining recommendations for the health and safety of the Legislature when it reconvenes. These proposed steps include requiring health screenings for all entering the Capitol, having hand sanitizer readily available at the entrance of both chambers, and staggering voting by legislators to reduce the number of people present in a room. The recommendations also address public access to legislative action including livestreaming all proceedings, legislation and amendment public availability, and allowing credentialed press access to the Capitol.

This week Democrat Senators pushed back on the Governor and Dir. Townsend’s unemployment policies on safe workplaces and returning to work. This came on the heels of President Trump ordering meat packing plants to open as essential services with Iowa housing several of these packing facilities. Democratic Senators pushed back on comments from the administration suggesting that employers are responsible for the outbreaks in these facilities, because the facilities didn’t protect their workers and Iowa workers are protected under Iowa administrative law. These Senators continue to advocate for improvements to worker safety and ongoing testing in all workplaces.

Despite the announcement of a significant decline in State tax collections the Legislative Services Agency (LSA) does not anticipate the state will have cash flow problems. Iowa was well positioned financially with money in the reserve funds and a positive ending balance after last year. However, LSA does anticipate  recent business closures will have a negative impact on tax collections raising concern for FY21 budget allocations.

The Administrative Rules Review Committee is scheduled to meet on Friday 5/8 at 9am via video conferencing. The agenda is very limited and there are few Rules for consideration. To join via videoconference please click here. Any Rules on the agenda pertaining to your organization will be emailed today.

 

Relevant COVID-19 Updates:

Iowa’s COVID-19 Cases

As of Monday (5/4) we are 8 weeks into this pandemic being documented in Iowa. As of today there are 9,703 positive cases in 91 counties, 188 deaths total, 389 are currently hospitalized, and 3,486 have recovered in Iowa for a recovery rate of 36%. 57,161 Iowans have been tested total, meaning 1 in 55 Iowans have been tested. There are now at least 28 confirmed long-term care facility outbreaks.

There are status reports of monitoring and testing of COVID-19 in Iowa is provided by IDPH and can be found here. In addition, a public hotline has been established for Iowans with questions about COVID-19. The line is available 24/7 by calling 2-1-1 or 1-800-244-7431.

 

STATE RESPONSE

Reopening:

  • On Tuesday, 4/28 the Iowa Dept. of Public Health released additional guidance for restaurants, farmers markets, and general businesses scheduled to open on Friday, 5/1. For a comprehensive list of guidance, please click here.

Testing:

  • On Wednesday, 4/29 the second Test Iowa site became operational in Waterloo, IA. On Monday 5/4 the third Test Iowa site opened in Sioux City. The next projected site is Scott County.

Unemployment:

  • On Thursday, 4/30 the Iowa Workforce Development released the unemployment insurance claims report for the week of 4/19. A total of 28,827 initial claims were filed. The industries with the most claims are manufacturing, health care and social assistance, and self-employed/independent contractors. Over $102 million in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefits was paid to 153,951 Iowans. Employers and claimants can find additional information and resources at https://www.iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov/.
  • On Thursday, 4/30, Iowa Workforce Development Director Townsend clarified access to unemployment benefits. If an individual is recalled to work and chooses not to return, the employee will not qualify for unemployment benefits, with some exceptions including displaying COVID-19 symptoms and being deemed part of the high risk category.

Economic Development:

  • On Thursday 4/30, Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Durham provided an updated on the Small Business Relief Program. About 2,600 small businesses have been awarded grants, and new grants are being awarded daily. For a complete list of grant recipients, click here.

Crisis Counseling Assistance:

  • Iowa received notice the state qualified for the Crisis Counseling Assistance & Training FEMA program with Dept. of Homeland Security and Emergency Management crisis counseling assistance and training program. This facilitates community-based outreach and short-term interventions for individuals dealing with stress and changing conditions as a result of COVID-19.

Health Care Update

Below is a high-level health care update related to COVID-19, based on information from CMS.

  • On Thursday, 4/30 CMS announced that occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech language pathologist can now perform and bill for services via telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries. These providers must be in private practice and bill through a HCFA. This is retroactive to March 1 and is in effect for the extent of the public health emergency. For the full CMS press release, click here.