Legislative Update from State Senator Joey Hensley

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   Hensley lists resources to help Tennesseans during COVID-19 pandemic  

   It’s been a tough week for our state and nation as the worldwide pandemic spreads. As a result of the rising COVID-19 numbers in our state, Governor Bill Lee has issued a “Stay at Home” order requiring Tennesseans to stay home unless engaging in essential activities. The governor has issued nine executive orders since declaring a state of emergency on March 12. These orders, some which temporarily suspend state law and rules, aim to facilitate the treatment and containment of the coronavirus to keep Tennesseans safe.

   Before adjourning, our General Assembly also provided tools to fight COVID-19 by including $150 million in the budget for a new fund to cover public health and safety issues related to the virus. The governor is utilizing the fund to purchase necessary equipment and resources to take care of patients and protect health care workers who are on the front lines.   In addition, the budget strengthened the state’s safety net for health programs for uninsured Tennesseans so treatment is widely available for those who need it.

   Unemployment has surged as a result of the virus and I want to ensure that all of those persons affected in our district who need information on how to file claims know how to access the state’s system to receive assistance quickly. The Department of Labor and Workforce Development is extending unemployment benefits to employees who suddenly find themselves out of work as businesses temporarily cease operations during the pandemic and those who are quarantined by a physician for COVID-19 and are temporarily away from their job. The department is suspending certain regulations so those who are approved will get paid more quickly. To apply online go to Jobs4TN.gov<https://www.jobs4tn.gov/vosnet/Default.aspx> or call 844-432-0969. Job searchers can also instantly view any position posted on the web directly on their android or iOS device at the Jobs4TN Mobile App. To avoid the peak times, the department advises logging into the system later in the day.

   Help is also on the way for our small businesses. Tennessee has received a declaration for Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Small businesses and nonprofit organizations that have suffered economic injury as a result of COVID-19 can apply for Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million per applicant to help meet financial obligations and operating expenses. Applications can be made online at sba.gov<https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela> or call 800-659-2955 for customer service.  Beginning April 3rd, Tennessee small businesses impacted by COVID-19 can tap the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program. The SBA will forgive loans that are used to cover the first eight weeks of payroll, rent, utilities and mortgage expenses. Forgivable loans are designed to help small businesses keep their workforce employed.

   For more information go to tnecd.comhttps://tnecd.com/.

   For those who need to tap into the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Cash Assistance, the state has set up a system to deliver help quickly. The Department of Human Services has set up a hotline to let applicants know if they have been approved and how much money their family will receive. The phone number is 833-496-0661.  Emergency cash assistance applications are being accepted online for qualifying families that lost a job as a result of the pandemic state of emergency.

   Families can apply online for up to two months of emergency cash assistance if they were employed as of March 11, 2020 and they’ve lost employment or at least 50 percent of their earned income as a result of the pandemic. To those who qualify these funds will provide $1,000 for a family of 5 or more, $750 for a household of 3 to 4 persons, and $500 for a household of 1 to 2 persons.

   If you don’t have TennCare and want to see if you can get it now, you can apply by using TennCare Connect<https://tenncareconnect.tn.gov/>. TennCare Connect is a self-service portal that allows applicants and members to create an account, check your status, report changes, read letters, and more. You can also call TennCare Connect for free at 855-259-0701 to get help over the phone.

   In light of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, the Tennessee Department of Revenue has extended the tax filing and payment deadlines for certain taxes. The filing deadlines for Franchise and Excise Tax and Hall Income Tax returns originally due April 15, 2020, have been extended to July 15, 2020. Interest and late filing penalties will not be applied to returns filed and payments made on or before this extended due date. Similarly, the filing deadline for Business Tax returns originally due April 15, 2020, has been extended to June 15, 2020. The Business Tax is a tax on gross receipts and applies to most businesses that sell goods or services.

   Due to many years of conservative budgeting, Tennessee is more prepared than the vast majority of states to meet the challenges ahead during these uncertain times. The Rainy Day Fund, which is the state’s savings account for an emergency or economic downturn, is at an all-time high level. As Vice-Chairman of the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee, I can attest to the fact that this is no small feat. There are many worthy bills that come before us that are not adopted because we must prioritize and reserve adequate savings for such a time as this.  This will help steer Tennessee through the rough economic waters ahead as we fight the effects of the worst health crisis of our time.   Most importantly, please stay safe and if I can help you please let me know.