Capitol Hill Update from State Representative David Byrd April 22, 2020

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   This week, Gov. Bill Lee extended the Safer at Home Order through April 30 to further mitigate the spread of Covid-19 and continue to flatten the virus curve in our state. In cooperation with the White House, Executive Order 27 extends existing orders in place through April 30 and requires all Tennesseans to stay home unless they are carrying out essential activities.

   At the same time, The Unified Command Group continues to consult with experts, analyze all available data, and monitor CDC recommendations to better prepare Tennessee for a phased economic reboot in early May. In preparations for this reboot, Unified Command will continue to focus on disease management, increasing hospital and testing capacity, and building up the state’s supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to support our health care professionals and first responders who are on the frontlines of this public health emergency.

   Gov. Lee on Thursday announced a new Economic Recovery Group to focus on the phased economic reboot. This group consists of legislative leaders including the House and Senate Majority Leaders, the heads of several state departments, and leaders of industries that have been highly impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. Their overall goal is to develop and issue industry specific guidance so businesses can prepare to operate safely and in the best interests of the employees and customers when they reopen in early May.

   The governor also announced the Stimulus Financial Accountability Group this week, consisting of both the House and Senate Speakers, legislative leaders, the Commissioner of Finance & Administration, Unified Command leadership, and the Comptroller of the Treasury among others. This group will ensure proper financial management of the expected $2.3 billion in federal stimulus resources on its way to Tennessee as a result of passage of the federal CARES Act.

   Staggered Schedule for Unemployment Claimants

   The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development moves to a staggered schedule for unemployment claimants completing their weekly certifications. This change will spread out the number of people certifying over three days, creating a more responsive experience for claimants using Jobs4TN.gov.

   More than 324,000 Tennesseans have applied for unemployment benefits over the last four weeks, creating an unprecedented demand on the unemployment computer system. While claimants can certify any day of the week, most choose Sunday, putting a workload 21 times the normal rate of usage onto the system. Starting Sunday, April 19, claimants will have access to complete their weekly certifications according to the last digit of their social security number. Sunday – 0,1,2,3; Monday – 4,5,6; Tuesday – 7,8,9; Wed. – Sat. – All numbers.

   When a claimant tries to certify and clicks the tab, if they are accessing the system on the correct day, it will allow them to proceed. If it is not the claimant’s scheduled day, the system will not let them certify. If a claimant missed their scheduled day, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday are open certification days for any social security number.

   Once a claimant completes the weekly certification process, their financial institution typically posts the benefit payment to their account or debit card within 48 to 72 hours. For claimants who normally certify on Sunday, switching to a Monday or Tuesday certification will change the day of their weekly deposit.

   Claimants must certify each week to ensure eligibility for benefit payments and to avoid the potential for overpayment. If someone does not certify for a particular week, they have five weeks to go back and do so, but the state is unable to process the payment for that week until they complete the missed certification.

   State Ramps up Covid-19 Testing

   The Lee Administration and the Tennessee Department of Health this week announced the state will also ramp up testing for Covid-19 as part of the plan to prepare for May’s economic reboot.

   To improve access and allow Tennesseans to make informed decisions, expanded testing will launch April 18-19 as members of the Tennessee National Guard and Department of Health establish new drive-thru testing locations across the state. Testing will be available at selected sites each of the next three weekends with results available within 72 hours of a test being conducted. Citizens will also have the opportunity to get tested at every rural county health department in the state over the course of the other five days each week.

   Expanded testing will be made available to all Tennesseans who are not feeling well, even if they do not experience common Covid-19 symptoms including cough, fever or breathing difficulty. 

   As of Friday morning, the state had performed 85,049 tests, of which 6,262 citizens have tested positive for Covid-19. Approximately 141 individuals have died, 691 have been hospitalized, while 2,789 have recovered.

   As always, I am truly humbled and honored to be your voice on Capitol Hill. If there is ever any issue I can assist with, please reach out to my office by calling 615-741-2190 or emailing me at rep.david.byrd@capitol.tn.gov. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, ideas, concerns, and suggestions during the second half of the 111th General Assembly.