Coronavirus Update: Federal Emergency Relief; Stay at Home; Community Resource

Dear friend:

As of today, we have 28 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in El Paso County. This includes the seven cases at Fort Bliss.Thus far, with social distancing and local orders limiting contact, we have managed to keep it from overwhelming hospitals. Please follow medical advice and local orders, and maintain your distancing.

[click here for pdf version of this newsletter]

If you leave home, wash hands often, and avoid unnecessary contact. I understand that the order raises questions about what business is considered “essential,” and there are questions of fairness in its application, but the fundamentals are based on common sense: We have to take this seriously to keep new cases down.

It’s not just about whether you can survive exposure. It’s also about the people you may infect, possibly without even knowing. We will get through this, but we are not yet there, and we have much to do, and new developments daily.

Just today, Gov. Greg Abbott order a 14-day quarantine for air travelers coming to Texas from certain states and cities (more on that below). On Tuesday, I sent a letter to the Governor urging him to implement a stay-at-home order for the state, as many cities and counties have done. Click here for letter. He has not yet acted on this; however, other state efforts are underway, and at the federal level, Congress has taken action for emergency relief.

Many Texas students will begin classwork from home next week – EPISD is launching [email protected], for example – and the state is taking other actions to address public health and support businesses.The community also is developing resources, from food support to general assistance. My staff has developed a guide to community resources, which is enclosed below and also may be found on my website, where you also will find state reference guides developed by the Texas Senate Business and Commerce Committee for small business and the Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee for health care.

Federal Actions

▪Yesterday, the Senate passed, and the House is expected to approve, a $2 trillion bill that provides direct payments to individuals, suspension of student loan payments until September, expanded unemployment benefits (including for “gig” workers), and a $500 billion Treasury Department lending program. Click here for general overview, here for more detail about taxes and charitable giving, and here for the actual text of the nearly 900-page emergency relief bill.
▪Last week, the U.S. Census suspended door-to-door operations and extended certain deadlines – but you can fill out the form you receive in the mail, or do it online. Questions? Click here.
▪The Internal Revenue Service announced yesterday several actions to provide relief to individual taxpayers facing financial challenges related to COVID-19, including suspending payments between April 1-July 15 for existing installment agreements, most field collection activities (liens and levies), and sending new delinquent accounts to private collection agencies. Click here for more information.

State actions

All air travelers coming into Texas from New Orleans and New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut must self-quarantine for two weeks.
▪The Texas Public Utility Commission voted Thursday to ban utilities from cutting off power and water services to Texans who have lost jobs and income during the COVID-19 crisis for at least the next six months. However, consumer and small business advocates raised questions about who it will ultimately help.
▪The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) submitted a Section 1135 Medicaid Waiver to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), seeking flexibility in deadlines, service provision, and licensing, among other items. Click here for Governor’s news bulletin.
▪Gov. Greg Abbott requested a Major Disaster Declaration for Texas, and yesterday it was approved. Texas joins numerous other states, such as California, Florida, and Washington, in eligibility for additional federal assistance.
▪The Governor also temporarily waived certain hospital licensing rules and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) has adopted an emergency rule to meet Texas’ need for additional hospital capacity. Read more here.
▪Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced that the agency is offering assistance in the form of short-term payment agreements and, in most instances, waivers of penalties and interest, for businesses facing difficulty in remitting state and local sales taxes.

Local actions

▪The El Paso County Attorney’s Office announced that members of the public can file for protective orders for family violence, dating violence, sexual assault or abuse, stalking, or human trafficking via the web at www.epcounty.com/ca/protectiveorders.htm. The page contains instructions and forms to begin the application process in both English and Spanish.
▪This morning the Department of Public Health announced drive-thru COVID-19 for those age 65 or older who have a temperature of 99.6 F or higher. No insurance or doctor’s order required. Make an appointment by calling (915) 494-0982 between 7-3 during operational hours M-F. Participants should not take any fever reducing medications prior to their appointment.
STATE RESOURCES

Texas Education Agency
School closures, superintendent debriefs, general guidance and FAQ, testing waiver, specific information for SPED, nutrition, etc. at the TEA website. You can find information on school meals here.

Health and Human Services information
LATEST GUIDANCE FROM HHS.
The Department of State Health Services has information on COVID-19, what to do if you get sick, state case counts and other resources.

Texas Workforce Commission
Apply at Unemployment Benefits Services or call TWC’s Tele-Center at 800-939-6631 from 8-6 CST M-F. Due to high call volume, TWC encourages people to sign up for Electronic Correspondence.

Texas Legal Aid has provided a web page for employees regarding legal rights and other questions.

Small Business Disaster Loans
The Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program provides long-term, low-interest loans to qualifying businesses across the state. ONLINE APPLICATION

Price gouging
Report to the Attorney General’s complaint line at (800) 621-0508 or file a complaint online by clicking here.

Local government meetings and electionsThe Governor has suspended various provisions that require government officials and members of the public to be physically present at a specified meeting location. Members of the public will be entitled to participate. Click here for Texas Municipal League information

He also issued an order allowing local jurisdictions to postpone elections scheduled for May 2 until November. San Elizario has announced it will postpone its elections.

Department of Public Safety / Driver Licenses
DPS has closed driver license facilities, and will temporarily waive expiration dates for Driver Licenses, Commercial Driver Licenses, and other identification forms. This suspension will be in effect until 60 days after the DPS provides further public notice that normal Driver License operations have resumed. Click here to find out if you are eligible to renew online. For additional information about renewing your driver license or ID card, visit the DPS website.

Employees Retirement System
For information on your health plan and other resources available to members of ERS, please click here.

Teacher Retirement System
TRS has announced that most employees are working remotely and annuities will be paid on time. The telephone counseling center is taking calls at 800.223.8778 and all health care and pension processes are continuing. Click here for a video explainer

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
The Coordinating Board has established a central website for coronavirus information relevant to Texas higher education.

Texas Department of Transportation
TxDOT has closed the lobbies of its 12 Travel Information Centers until further notice to help combat the threat of COVID-19. Outside restrooms will remain available at all times and will be regularly cleaned between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The safety rest areas on highways throughout the state remain open.

Criminal Justice
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards has released guidance for jails and detention facilities. This includes recommendations that officials explore options with local county and district attorneys and arresting authorities for releasing non-violent misdemeanor offenders and implementing “cite and release” for non-violent crimes.
Community resources

Orders and updates
County Shelter In Place Order
City Shelter in Place Order
▪If stopped by police, Know Your Rights
Ciudad Juarez updates.
Trans-Pecos updates

Volunteer and Donate
If you are healthy and understand how to practice precautions, volunteer at the El Pasoans Fighting Hunger foodbank or donate hereIf you are healthy and able, donate blood.

To support local non-profits in the region, consider donating to the Paso del Norte Community Foundation’s El Paso COVID-19 Response Fund.

If you have the means and would like to support local food and beverage workers you may do so through the Food and Beverage Workers Fund

Public Utilities
El Paso City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that prevents utilities, including water, electricity, cable, internet and gas from being disconnected for late payment during the city’s coronavirus emergency. Various utilities also are offering late payment and other arrangements. While the ordinance and other actions taken by the state, federal government, or utilities, prevents disconnection of services, it does not forgive outstanding balances or cancel your obligation to pay for service.

El Paso Electric
El Paso Water
Texas Gas Service
AT&T
SpectrumProject BRAVO’s Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program (CEAP) assists low-income households in meeting their immediate energy needs through utility bill assistance and energy education.

General Assistance
The County General Assistance Division provides resources to El Pasoans through community and social service programs. Call 775-2700 to apply over the phone or click here to apply online

Public Transportation
Sun Metro will offer free public transportation, but also has limited service. El Paso Streetcar service has been suspended.

Food Meals and Provisions
Special hours are offered for those aged 60+, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems across El Paso 
* Walmart- 7am-8am every Tuesday 
* Albertsons- 7am-9am every Tuesday and Thursday 
* Whole Foods Market- 7am-8am each day 
* Target- 8am-9am every Wednesday 
* Vista Supermarket- 6:30am-7am each day 
* Dollar General- 8am-9am each day

Food Assistance
For public school students: School Districts are offering free meals to all students under 18, regardless of which district you live in. Find a distribution site nearest you and the TEA Meal Finder to locate school meals across Texas.

For Community 
One Grub Community offers free meals on a “Pay it Forward” basis. Contact to see if there are meals available at (915) 588-7078 or visit 901 Arizona St. Wed-Fri 8am-7pm/Sat 10am-2pm. 
Food pantry services are available to the community. Make sure to call before visiting. 
UTEP students may access pantry services at Memorial Gym.

Let’s take care of ourselves and those around us.
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