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COVID-19 April 30 Updates: Texas Relaxes Jobless Benefit Rules, Advocate Warns Of Unseen Child Abuse

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Michael Minasi
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KUT

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Thursday, April 30. Read Friday's live updates here. If you'd like to go through a roundup of COVID-19 news from Wednesday, read it here. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Update at 5:32 p.m. – Texas relaxes rules for collecting unemployment benefits

 

The agency that manages the state's unemployment system is relaxing rules for some people collecting jobless benefits.

 

Gov. Greg Abbott’s stay-at-home order begins to loosen tomorrow, potentially meaning some people could return to their jobs. But with schools closed and the coronavirus still very much active in Texas and the U.S., some people have been concerned that returning to work could put them or family members in danger — or be forced to leave their young children alone. They’re also worried refusing to work could cost them their unemployment benefits.

 

This afternoon, Abbott and the Texas Workforce Commission announced they would allow some people to refuse work and continue collecting benefits in certain cases. The criteria include:

  • People 65 years or older, who are at a higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19.
  • People who have a household member at high risk.
  • People who have tested positive for COVID-19 by a source authorized by the State of Texas and are not recovered.             
  • People who have a family member with COVID-19 who is not yet recovered.
  • People who are in 14-day quarantine due to close contact exposure to COVID-19.
  • People with children who have no available child care.

Other situations will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

 

Update at 3:19 p.m. –Advocate warns child abuse numbers might not reflect reality

With schools closed and stay-home orders in effect, the children’s advocacy group Children at Risk says it has seen reports from state agencies showing child abuse numbers are down.

In a virtual roundtable Thursday, the nonprofit's president, Bob Sanborn, said one reason for the drop is that teachers, child care workers and others who’ve traditionally been the first reporters of child abuse are not seeing these kids right now.

“On the other hand, we hear from hospitals, we hear from emergency rooms, that the numbers of children admitted for child abuse has actually increased,” he said.

With the uncertainty of the pandemic, and much of the state budget dependent on unstable oil prices, he says child care advocates should prepare to have less resources to work with moving forward.

“Texas historically was 49th in funding for mental health. After a big influx of money after some school shootings and hurricanes, we went from 49th to 49th," he said. "So we still have a lot of work to do.”

– Jerry Quijano

Update at 10:11 a.m. — Georgetown Public Library and some parks facilities reopening

Georgetown will reopen some facilities starting Friday. The Georgetown Public Library will open for reduced hours — Monday through Friday 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m. — for checking out books, DVDs, and other materials, but most other services won’t be available. 

Small picnic pavilions, outdoor bathrooms and tennis and pickleball courts in parks will open Friday. The Tennis Center will open Monday.

Austin Public Library has said it will not reopen on Friday, even though Gov. Greg Abbott included libraries in the operations that can reopen with limited capacity starting May 1. 

Update at 8:35 a.m. — About 1.75 million Texans have applied for unemployment since mid-March

Just over 254,000 Texans filed new unemployment claims last week, new numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor show. That's about 26,500 fewer claims than the week before.

But since COVID-19 starting hitting the state's economy in mid-March, about 1.75 million Texans have applied for unemployment benefits.

Nationwide, another 3.8 million people filed claims last week, adding up to more than 30 million over the six weeks since the coronavirus pandemic began hitting the U.S. economy, NPR reports.

Update at 5:30 a.m. — Austin Community College awarded more than $13 million from emergency relief grant

Austin Community College students can now apply for federal financial aid from the U.S. government’s coronavirus aid bill. ACC has been awarded more than $13 million through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, a federal grant funded by the bill. 

The funds are intended to help students who have been impacted financially by COVID-19. The college encourages students to apply for aid even if they aren’t sure they meet federal eligibility requirements. 

“ACC will review all applications to match students with the best financial support option,” according to a press release from ACC.

Students can apply through the CARES Act Student Aid webpage. 

“We’re expecting thousands of applications, and we have a team ready to look at each and every one of those individually,” said Dr. Shasta Buchanan, student affairs vice president, in the press release. “Life is tough right now. We don’t want the cost of college to be another burden for our students.”

As of this morning, the college says it has received more than 1,100 applications within the first two hours of opening.

Catch up on what happened yesterday

CTRMA makes budget plans amid COVID-19 uncertainty

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority has seen traffic drop by more than half on its tollways since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, and fewer cars means millions of dollars of lost revenue.

Officials with the CTRMA told board members Wednesday that revenues from vehicle tags and video tolls were projected to drop by close to $24 million this fiscal year. Revenues had been fairly strong before stay-at-home orders were issued. 

But there are signs that traffic is picking up once again. Traffic on the MoPac Express Lane had been down by more than 90% through early April, but is starting to rebound.

“We wanted to stay with this conservative estimate for the rest of this fiscal year, but we are seeing some positive trends,” said Robert Goode, deputy executive director of the CTRMA. “And of course, with the governor’s announcement, we expect those to continue.”

The authority is also beginning budget planning for next fiscal year, with officials calling for cuts in discretionary spending that could be restored if revenues rebound. It has more than $100 million in reserves, but it won’t need to be tapped yet, Goode said. 

The CTRMA is also trying to work with customers who may be behind on paying tolls. It has paused outbound collection activity, extended its courtesy waiver program and halted its habitual violator program.

Other local coronavirus news from Wednesday:

  • The Central Texas Food Bank’s last drive-through food distribution in April is Thursday morning at Burger Stadium (3200 Jones Road in Austin) from 9 a.m. until noon.
  • The Texas Supreme Court has extended a statewide ban on evictions until May 18. The ban had been set to expire Thursday.
  • Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan, along with nine other cities, is requesting Gov. Greg Abbott allow local governments to have postponed May elections in August. 
  • Despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that allows libraries and certain businesses to reopen Friday, Austin Public Library doesn’t plan to do so.
  • Lyft scooters are leaving Austin, the company announced Wednesday. Citing economic challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lyft said it is laying off 17% of its workforce, or 982 employees.

What's happening statewide? Check out special coverage from KERA for North Texas, Houston Public MediaTexas Public Radio in San Antonio and Marfa Public Radio.

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