To say that the COVID-19 situation has changed daily is a vast understatement.  At times it seems the information about the disease and responses from local, state and federal officials is changing almost hourly.

The passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) provides an estimated $2 trillion stimulus package that will help individuals, families, businesses and state and local governments. 

The package includes direct payments to lower and middle-income Americans. In the amount of $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for married couples, with an additional $500 per child younger than age 17. Checks are expected to be mailed out later this month.

The package also expands unemployment insurance from three to four months, and provides temporary unemployment compensation of $600 per week, which is in addition to and the same time as regular state and federal unemployment benefits.  Part-time, self-employed and gig economy workers now have access to unemployment benefits.  Because so many Oklahomans have been impacted by the pandemic, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission has been inundated with tens of thousands of phone calls and online applications.  Please be patient as they work to better respond to these applications and get them processed. For more information or to file for unemployment, go to https://www.ok.gov/oesc/.

There’s also a $500 billion lending fund for businesses, cities and states.  For more information about help for businesses, please go to okcommerce.gov/covid19/.

As Oklahoma’s schools have moved to distance learning for the remainder of the semester, some additional announcements were made this past week of great importance.  The governor signed an executive order ensuring support staff of Oklahoma public schools can be paid for the remainder of their current contract despite school buildings being closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the United States Department of Agriculture approved Oklahoma’s waiver to enabling Oklahoma students statewide to access two free meals a day.

The governor’s call to loosen restrictions that kept many Oklahomans from being tested is welcome news, as well as his expansion of “Safer at Home” orders, the temporary closures of nonessential businesses, and other provisions which now will remain in place through April 30th and now apply to all 77 counties.  However, I believe we still need a statewide shelter in place order to further curtail the spread of COVID-19.  Oklahoma has been identified as one of the emerging hot-spots in the country—clearly, we need to be doing more than we are. Lives literally hang in the balance.

On Thursday the governor declared a health emergency which will give him broader powers to respond to the pandemic.  The Legislature was called into special session on Monday, April 6 to vote on this action.

I’ll keep you posted.

I welcome your comments on state government and the issues before us.  Please feel free to contact me by writing to Senator J.J. Dossett at the State Capitol, Room 521-A, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105; call me at (405) 521-5566.   

MAKE IT COUNT OKLAHOMA! An undercount in the census of just 2 percent can cost the state $1.8 billion in lost federal money over the next 10 years. Fill out your census form, Oklahoma. Learn more at: www.2020census.gov.

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E-mail lindsey.chastain@skiatookjournal.com

Managing Editor

Lindsey is the managing editor for the Skiatook Journal. She holds an M.A in English from the University of Central Oklahoma. Prior to the start of her news career in 2011, Renuard was a professor of English at the University of Central Oklahoma.