Legislative Update from State Senator Joey Hensley 4-15-20


   State is working hard to make resources more readily available for those adversely affected COVID-19
   Tennessee received promising news this week that the steps being taken to mitigate COVID-19 in Tennessee and its demand on state health care resources are working. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation shows that Tennessee may have enough hospital and intensive care unit beds available at the projected peak if Tennesseans continue to follow guidelines established by state health officials and Governor Bill Lee. This model is much more positive than earlier projections and shows Tennesseans are “doing their part by staying apart.”
   Grants announced for hospitals and community health centers – In other news regarding the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, two separate rounds of grants were announced this week for hospitals and community health centers in Tennessee. The state has allocated $10 million in Small and Rural Hospital Readiness Grants to help relieve the financial strain placed upon them due to the coronavirus. The grants come from the $150 million COVID-19 health and safety response fund, which was part of the appropriations bill passed by the General Assembly last month. For participating hospitals, the grants will serve as a bridge over the coming weeks while elective procedures are suspended and new federal funds are still processing. In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the award of over $2 million in grants in Tennessee for 29 health centers in response to the coronavirus. These grants, which recognize the vital role that community health centers provide, are part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act supplemental funding passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump. The recipients can use the awards to address such needs as screening, COVID-19 testing, or to acquire medical supplies or expand telehealth capacity.
   CARES Act funding for uninsured Tennesseans — Governor Lee and Tennessee health officials have been working hard to ensure each person in the state has access to treatment for COVID-19, regardless of whether they are insured. The CARES Act provides funds for treatment for the uninsured. Federal guidance is forthcoming on how funds from the CARES Act will be directed to providers to serve those without insurance. The Tennessee Division of TennCare has also submitted a waiver to the federal government seeking matching dollars to address the uninsured population.

   COVID-19 testing sees improvements — Tennessee continued to improve access to COVID-19 testing this week. The state lab received the new rapid COVID-19 test developed by Abbot that shows positive results in five minutes and negative results within 13 minutes. This technology will help immensely in relieving the test backlog once it is maximized. Private providers in Tennessee are also gaining access to this cutting-edge technology. This helps to keep our state a leader in testing for the virus, which is extremely helpful as Tennessee flattens the curve. The state has widened the number of testing sites as well. In order to ensure rural residents have access to COVID-19 testing, Tennessee has deployed 500 National Guardsmen, with 250 having medical expertise, to assist in 37 assessment sites. The Guard has the capacity to deploy additional guardsmen to a location as needed. Tennessee Coronavirus Public Information Lines are open and available daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. CDT at 833-556-2476 or 877-857-2945.
   Cities and Counties to get $200 million in grants to help meet financial challenges
   In other news on grants, the state announced applications will be taken soon for $200 million in grants to help local governments meet heightened demands. The funds were authorized by the General Assembly in the appropriations act to assist local governments in meeting financial challenges. Every county and city government in Tennessee is eligible for a one-time grant to meet local expenses in fiscal year 2021.

   The grants can be used for road projects, I.T. upgrades, capital maintenance, utility system upgrades, and public safety projects. Certain disaster-related expenses are also eligible for funding. In addition, one-time expenses related to COVID-19 are eligible including supply and equipment purchase, cleaning, emergency food and shelter programs. Counties impacted by the March 2020 tornadoes may use the funds for tornado relief efforts as well. The funding will be based on population, but each county will receive at least $500,000, and each city or municipality will receive at least $30,000.

   Paycheck Protection Program — In addition, the Paycheck Protection Program and Support for Small Business will help those who are suffering losses due to COVID-19. The Paycheck Protection Program https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/top-priorities/cares-act/assistance-for-small-businesses is a loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. The Small Business Administration will forgive loans if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities. The Program authorized $350 billion in fully forgivable loans to help small businesses maintain payrolls.