Legislative Interim Update, September 23
- USDA Warns of Scam Targeting SNAP Recipients
- Federal Highway Administration Proposes “Dig Once” Rule to Expand Broadband
- Deadline to Claim Federal Stimulus Payments Fast Approaching
- USDA Extends Children’s Free Meal Programs
- Texas Walks Back Proposed Budget Cuts on Access to Care for Women and Children
- Impact of COVID-19 on Texas Nonprofit Organizations
- Get out the Vote! Resources on How to Vote in the 2020 Election
- Missing Routine Pediatric Vaccines & the Importance of the 2020 Flu Vaccine
- University of Texas Study Models Social Distancing Levels Needed to Flatten the Curve
Text message scams have ramped up during the pandemic, with the latest scam targeting SNAP recipients to steal personal information. On Sept. 10, the USDA issued a notice warning SNAP recipients of fraud attempts using text messages.
The agency warned that the scam text messages were being used to steal personal information by posing as a SNAP official offering food stamps or SNAP benefits. The federal agency directed recipients of suspected scam texts to not respond and promptly delete them. Residents who are unsure if the SNAP request for information is legitimate can reach out to their local SNAP office.
A proposed new federal rule aims to efficiently coordinate broadband expansion with federal highway projects. If enacted, $126 billion could be saved in broadband deployment and expansion efforts.
The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHA) has proposed a new rule to improve coordination efforts between construction of federally-funded roadways and installation of broadband technologies.
The “Dig Once” rule would mandate the inclusion of broadband conduit in road construction that would eliminate costly excavation of recently paved roads to expand broadband infrastructure. FHA reports indicate that 90% of high-speed internet installation costs lie with digging up roadways. By streamlining this coordination, FHA officials estimate improved access to broadband technology in rural areas will result.
Nearly 1 million eligible Texans have yet to claim their federal stimulus payments and the Oct. 15 deadline is fast approaching.
Texans who regularly file their tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service received their stimulus payments via direct deposit or check as they would receive an income tax return. Low-income families who normally do not fill out a tax return form were required to take an additional step and file a separate online form to claim their stimulus payment. Every Texan, an MHM funded partner, has shared resources on how to get the word out to Texans to claim their stimulus checks before it’s too late.
Free meal programs that normally only operate during the summer will now be allowed to continue to provide meals into the fall, thanks to a recent extension from the USDA.
Summer meal programs such as the Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option are critical to children facing food insecurity during the summer school break. With many children unable to attend school due to the pandemic, the USDA issued several flexibilities that would allow such programs to continue offering meal services through the end of the year or until funds are exhausted. The meals are served in all areas, at no cost, and can be served outside of typical settings including permitting parents and guardians to pick up meals for children at home. These programs have been a lifeline for families facing financial hardships during these unprecedented times.
In June, the Texas Health & Human Services Commission (HHSC) issued a first draft in response to State requested budget cuts. Advocates have been vocal that the proposed cuts will negatively impact programs related to women’s health, family violence, and state enrollment systems for Supplemental Nutritiop Assistance Program (SNAP), Childrens Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid.
Earlier this summer, the governor and state leadership directed state agencies to submit a plan for budget cuts up to 5% in response to the budget shortfall caused by the pandemic economic crisis. The agency stated that they assessed which areas to target based on “services directly impacting short-term mortality were prioritized over long-term health benefits; and services with limited impact on the direct health and well-being of Texans were prioritized last.”
In response, Texans Care for Children – a Methodist Healthcare Ministries Funded Partner – submitted a letter to state leadership in defense of the Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) Respite Care program slated to be among the cuts. The ECI program offers services to families with “children with developmental delays, disabilities or certain medical diagnoses that may impact development.” As a result of these advocacy efforts, HHSC announced on Sept. 8 that ECI funding would not be eliminated in the proposed budget cuts.
The following week, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced that they were rescinding the originally proposed cuts of $15 million to health and safety net programs in favor of making cuts to agency administrative budgets to meet the mandated budget reductions.
While this is good news, the agency is still anticipating a negative impact on the effectiveness and quality of services provided as a result of the amended proposal’s budget cuts.
A recent report from United Ways of Texas illustrates the impact of COVID-19 on nonprofit organizations and the ramifications for the communities they serve.
In a joint effort, United Ways of Texas and OneStar Foundation administered a statewide survey of 501(c)(3) organizations to better understand the full impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on nonprofits and the communities they serve.
Unsurprisingly, organizations across the state consistently reported that the pandemic had crippled their sector’s ability to sustain their workforces and ability to provide critical services. Organizations also reported that they and the communities they serve need flexible financial resources at this time.
To ensure that Texas’s nonprofit sector withstands the pandemic and can continue in its important role in the state, the report recommended that nonprofits, funders, businesses and governments work together to mitigate both short and long-term impacts of the pandemic on the sector and the communities they serve. Additionally, the report stated that Texans must advocate for key decision-makers to include solutions for nonprofits and strengthen the resilience of served communities.
During the ongoing public health crisis, getting to the polls has become more difficult for voters across the state. Resources to help get out the vote are here to help to ensure you feel safe casting your ballot this November.
Here are some steps you can take to ensure your vote is cast this year.
- Find out if you are already registered to vote – verify that you are registered to vote and all of your information is up-to-date. You can check online here.
- Register to Vote– if you have not yet registered to vote or must re-register to vote in a new location, you can pick up a voter registration application at your library, any government office or download one from here. Mail your completed application to the Voter Registrar in your county. A voter registration certificate or card will be mailed with your name, address and the precinct number you will vote in. The last day to register to vote in Texas is Oct. 5.
- Voting– you can check your local newspaper for polling place locations for your precinct or search online here. On Election Day, you must arrive at the polling site between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. to cast your ballot – note that the hours may differ depending on the polling site. You will be required to provide one of seven (7) acceptable forms of photo identification. If you don’t possess one of these forms of identification, you may show a supporting form of identification to the election official.
A report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released in May, found a troubling drop in routine childhood immunizations, the result of families adhering to public health guidance to limit unnecessary exposure to and spread of COVID-19.
The CDC report tallied cumulative doses and differences in the Vaccines for Children (VCF) - funded vaccines ordered by healthcare providers between January and April. VCF is a national program that provides federally purchased vaccines to approximately 50% of U.S. children. The results indicated a sizable decrease in vaccine orders in early March following the national public health emergency declaration.
Keeping up with childhood vaccine schedules is important to children’s health and in some cases is necessary for vaccine efficacy. Vaccine interruptions and delays could also result in the spread of preventable infectious diseases, especially as schools and businesses begin reopening across the country.
Public health officials are urging individuals to receive their annual flu shot as soon as possible. While it is always a good preventative measure against the spread of the flu, this year’s vaccine could have the added benefit of preventing overloading hospital systems given that symptoms for both the flu and COVID-19 are very similar. Officials have also noted that it is possible to be concurrently infected with both influenza and COVID-19 which could add further strain to health care systems, especially in the event of another surge in SARS-CoV-2 infections.
To navigate how to receive your flu shot, visit the Texas Department of State Health Services Vaccine Finder.
Researchers have released projections on the level of social distancing required to effectively “flatten the curve” in 22 of Texas’ major metropolitan areas. .
Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin found that Texans reducing their social interactions by 50% was not enough to reduce the current surges in COVID-19 hospitalizations overwhelming hospital capacities in metro areas across the state. Instead, the study from a UT professor of Integrative Biology and Statistics, indicated that it would take individuals reducing social interactions by 90% to have any meaningful impact on the cases curve. Health experts continue to encourage residents to observe social distancing practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and overloading of healthcare systems.
For more information on health care research, policy or advocacy, please contact Chris Yanas at firstname.lastname@example.org.