Coronavirus: Extra $300 Benefits To Begin, Substitute Shortage May Push Students Online

Sep 14, 2020

The state announced a total of more than 105,000 total confirmed cases - including three days with more than 1,000 reported cases - and more than 1.7 million Hoosiers tested.
Credit Lauren Chapman / IPB News

The Indiana State Department of Health reported 74 additional confirmed deaths over the last week, bringing the state’s total to 3,214. The state announced more than 105,000 total confirmed cases – including three days with more than 1,000 reported cases – and more than 1.7 million Hoosiers tested.

DWD Set To Begin Extra $300 Federal Benefits, But Many Could Slip Through Cracks

The Department of Workforce Development says it's on track to begin issuing extra $300 payments to unemployed Hoosiers on Sept. 21. However, there are still many unemployed people who won’t get the federal Lost Wages Assistance funds.

Per White House guidelines, Hoosiers have to be approved to receive at least $100 of unemployment benefits in order to get the extra $300. DWD estimates that means roughly 17 percent of those on the state's unemployment program – somewhere between 25,000 to 30,000 Hoosiers each week – don’t receive enough from the state’s unemployment insurance program to be eligible. 

Extra $300 Unemployment Benefit Will Be Capped At Six Weeks

FEMA said Thursday that states, including Indiana, should plan for a maximum of six weeks of boosted unemployment benefits of $300 per week. This came a day after the state said it expected actual payments to begin on Sept. 21.

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A FEMA spokesperson said in a statement the decision to cap the program at six weeks was made based on state and U.S. Department of Labor spending projections. It said it’s already distributed $30 billion of the $44 billion set aside for the program.

"Regardless of where the states and territories are in their process to receive and distribute the FEMA funding, FEMA will fund six weeks in $300 supplemental unemployment benefits to every state and territory that has applied for this assistance by Sept. 10," the statement said. "No new/initial applications will be accepted after 11:59 p.m. EDT on Sept. 10, however states/territories may continue to submit requests for additional weeks, up to week six, after Sept. 10."

School Leaders Worry Ongoing Substitute Shortage Will Push Students Back Online

Many schools in Indiana are working to provide some sort of in-person instruction to students as they reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic, but some school leaders say a shortage of teachers could force them to once again move students online.

Teachers everywhere are providing instruction in person, online, and in some cases, both. But substitute teachers are in high demand and have been in critically short supply.

State leaders have urged schools to at least prepare for a return to online learning as the fallout from the ongoing pandemic continues. And Walters said she and others have prepared to move online in case local health departments close schools because of the spread of COVID-19 in their communities. 

But the start of flu season is here, and Sichting and Walters both said they're already thinking about whether or not they will need to shift to online learning – and when – if they don't find more qualified staff soon.

IU Health Expert Warns School COVID-19 Case Data Is Undermined By Testing Gaps

Educators and their communities have pushed officials to publicly track COVID-19 cases found in schools, but one expert warns there hasn't been enough testing to make those numbers meaningful.

Indiana has a new school COVID-19 case dashboard in the works, and the public will be able to see the number of cases reported in schools across the state. 

But Dr. Aaron Carroll, a professor of pediatrics and health expert at Indiana University, said context is critical – like whether or not a COVID-positive student got infected in the community instead of in school. 

"That's very different than saying, there are 10 cases, nine of which we can trace to one classroom in the school. That's a problem with the school," he said.

All IN: Homeless Shelters And COVID-19

Homeless shelters across the state have had to halt, pivot, and adapt services and programming because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they’ve taken many different approaches to keep their residents, staff, and volunteers safe.

All IN checked in with representatives from three Indiana homeless shelters to hear how things are going.

95 New COVID-19 Testing Sites Opening Around Indiana By Oct. 1

Nearly 100 new COVID-19 testing sites are going up around the state, run by local health departments.

The state will provide funding to help those sites stay up and running for the next two years.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said every local health department was invited to apply for the grant funding to help jumpstart COVID-19 testing – and most did.

“Some counties opted not to take the funding because they have other testing available," Box said. "Other counties have partnered together or with a health care provider in their community to offer testing.”

State Health Officials Urge Flu Shots to Help Hospitals With Pandemic

State health officials are urging Hoosiers to get a flu shot this fall. The recommendation is an effort to keep flu numbers low during the coronavirus pandemic.

Indiana State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said wearing masks and the increased awareness of hand-washing may help keep the number of flu cases down this season, but immunization against the flu is critical to making sure hospitals aren’t overburdened with flu cases, alongside COVID-19.

"Please get your influenza vaccine," Box said. "And we're going to make sure that we offer it in many more places to make it as easy as possible for Hoosiers to get those vaccines."

Indiana Democrats, GOP Send Out Unsolicited Absentee Ballot Applications

Hoosiers across the state are receiving unsolicited absentee ballot applications in the mail from the Indiana Democratic and Republican parties.

The political parties sending out absentee ballot applications isn’t new – it’s a common way for them to try to drive up voter turnout.

But it’s under a different spotlight this year because of the fierce debate over vote-by-mail. Democrats want it expanded to anyone who wants it – just like during the primary – because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Republicans steadfastly refuse to allow that; they argue the 2020 general election should be a “normal” one.

County clerks around Indiana have received confused phone calls from voters about the applications. But they are legitimate – and, if you qualify for vote-by-mail, you can use the application to request your ballot.

All IN: Statewide Groups Unite Around Pandemic Efforts

A new statewide collaboration, made up of more than a dozen government, non-profit and economic development groups, was formed to help Indiana recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

People behind the project say there are a lot of groups addressing pandemic-related issues across the state, but that a lot of them haven’t traditionally talked very much, and some of their work overlaps. This collaboration, in concept, could fix that.

Holcomb Says No To Payroll Tax Deferral For State Employees

Indiana won’t participate in the payroll tax deferral for state workers offered by President Donald Trump last month.

The Trump executive order allows employers to push back payroll taxes from September through the end of December for employees making less than four thousand dollars every two weeks.

But Gov. Eric Holcomb said Indiana state government declined to do so.

“It’s a delay and you end up having to pick up in January and pay double,” Holcomb said.

Indiana Offering Free Online Skills Courses For Job Recovery Plan

Indiana is making free job training available for up to 100,000 Hoosiers who had their work affected by the pandemic. The courses will be delivered online through an Indianapolis-based company called 180 Skills. 

The online courses can take up to three months to complete and earn an industry-recognized certification. 

Many courses focus on advanced manufacturing skills, but others teach job interview skills and how to use Microsoft Office. Each course is free to the user, but costs the state around $30 a person. It’s part of the state’s Rapid Recovery plan for workers.

Contact Lauren at lchapman@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @laurenechapman_.