Coronavirus: Utilities Seek COVID-19 Relief, State Says Contact Tracing Process Confidential

May 13, 2020

Several personal services businesses - like hair salons - were able to reopen May 11 with restrictions after being closed by Indiana "Stay-At-Home" order.
Credit Justin Hicks / IPB News

The Indiana State Department of Health reported 33 additional confirmed deaths on Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 1,444. The state announced more than 25,000 total confirmed cases, with more than 150,000 Hoosiers tested.

Utilities Seek COVID-19 Relief, Could Result In Higher Energy Bills

Several gas and electric utilities in Indiana are seeking financial relief due to COVID-19. But consumer advocates worry this could make energy bills even higher for people who are currently struggling to pay bills during the crisis. 

The utilities say they’re losing money because building closures have driven down the demand for energy. They’re also paying extra for things like protective gear and employee overtime. Meanwhile, many have stopped disconnections and late fees to help out residents unemployed due to the pandemic.

The utilities have asked the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to let them defer some of those costs and track them so they could be recovered at a later date — possibly by increasing rates.

“We're bringing this impact to the commission so that it's known and that we understand how these expenses should be handled on a going forward basis," says Danielle McGrath, who represents utilities through the Indiana Energy Association.

First Step In Indiana's COVID-19 Job Recovery Plan: Offer Workers Retraining Grants

The Governor’s Workforce Cabinet is partnering with a non-profit to provide workers with information about the state’s Workforce Ready grants for job certifications. It’s the first step in a multi-agency job recovery plan the state is calling “Rapid Recovery For A Better Future.”

Workforce Ready Grants pay for tuition and fees to enroll in a community college job certification program the state deems as having “high value.” It includes advanced manufacturing, health services and IT services.

READ MORE: Governor Holcomb Outlines How – And Why – The State Will Reopen

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INvestED typically advises Hoosiers on paying for college, but is making seven financial aid experts available to answer questions about the grant.

"So we're just kind of a connector and a question answerer to let the people know how to most easily access these wonderful programs and dollars that exist," says Bill Wozniak, vice president of marketing at INvestEd.

Indiana Emphasizes Confidentiality In Contact Tracing Process

State Health Commissioner Kris Box says information gathered by the state contact tracing call center remains private.

Employees at the center, which launched Monday, talk with COVID-19-positive Hoosiers to find out where they’ve been and with whom they’ve been in contact.

The call center has already contacted hundreds of people to trace the spread of COVID-19. And Box emphasizes that private information will never be shared in those tracing calls.

“We do not call an individual and say, ‘Hey, you were exposed to Mike Smith on Saturday at the wedding and we think you could have, you know, COVID-19,” Box says.

Survey Sees Farmer Sentiment Drops Further As Virus Concerns On Profitability Rise

Farmer sentiment dropped for a second month in a row in April bringing the Ag Economy Barometer down to levels last seen in 2016. The coronavirus pandemic has caused Indiana livestock and crop farmers to face oversupply issues.

Index co-author Jim Mintert says about two-thirds of farmers are fairly or very worried about their farm’s profitability due to the pandemic.

“Livestock producers are concerned about their ability to have access to beef and pork processing plants to process their animals into products that consumers want,” says Mintert. “And on the grain side, the lack of demand coming from that ethanol sector has had a huge impact.”

Two major pork processing plants in Indiana joined others across the country temporarily closing after workers tested positive for COVID-19.

Indiana GOP Convention Going Virtual, With Mail-In Voting

The Indiana Republican Party’s 2020 state convention will be virtual. The party officially announced the change Tuesday, in compliance with COVID-19 guidelines.

The state’s “Back On Track” plan will likely restrict gatherings to no more than 250 people by June 19, when the state GOP convention is scheduled. And since the event typically attracts more than 1,000 delegates, party chair Kyle Hupfer says it’s a no-go.

Instead, Indianapolis television station WISH-TV will broadcast and livestream the convention on June 18. It will feature addresses from Gov. Eric Holcomb and Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch. It will also include speeches from each of the Republican candidates seeking the attorney general nomination.

IRS Sets Wednesday Deadline For Those Waiting On Stimulus Payments

The IRS and the Treasury Department are working together to get Economic Impact Payments to people. As many as 130 million people have received a combined $200 million in the four weeks since payments started the IRS reported. 

For those who have not yet received payment, the IRS has set the deadline of Wednesday, May 13, at noon to submit your direct deposit information. After that deadline, the IRS will work with the Bureau of Fiscal Services to mail checks which should arrive sometime in late May or June. 

Bank information can be submitted on the IRS website here

Modern Day Love Story In Age Of Coronavirus: Michiana Couple Gets Married Via Zoom

The coronavirus crisis has forced many people to stay apart but for one newly married Michiana couple, the pandemic has had an unexpected perk. It's a modern day love story in the age of coronavirus.

Liz Jackson and Alex Withorn met at the South Bend Cubs Stadium about three years ago. Liz was a grad student at Notre Dame and Alex worked for the Cubs. After a few months of dating, Alex got a job in Lansing, Michigan for the Lansing Lugnuts. So they had to adjust to a long-distance relationship, something Liz wasn’t thrilled about.

But then Liz moved to work at a school in Australia and their long-distance relationship became more distant. But they made it work and Alex proposed to Liz in November.

“Our original plan was for [Alex] to come to Australia and we were going to get married in Australia,” Liz says.

But during the wedding planning, the coronavirus was declared a pandemic and life started to change quickly. Liz flew to the U.S. right away because she needed to get some documents sorted and planned to fly back, but in the matter of a week, Australia closed its borders to non-citizens, so Liz is stuck in Michigan. But that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for a couple who has been doing long-distance for several years.

Indianapolis Public Schools Schedule Virtual Graduation Ceremonies

Indianapolis Public Schools says it will host virtual graduation ceremonies for Arsenal Technical, Crispus Attucks, George Washington and Shortridge high schools next month.

IPS school buildings have been closed since March 12, when Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett ordered all Marion County public schools to close amidst the coronavirus pandemic, with students completing course work remotely. 

The school district says with the health risks associated with the virus, the district administration — along with input from high school principals and current seniors — decided to replace traditional in-person graduations with online commencement exercises.

“We didn’t make this decision lightly,” IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson, said in a statement. “We assembled an advisory group of high school seniors to get their ideas. In the end, students wanted to mark their graduation, as scheduled, in June and felt a virtual celebration was a fitting option in a time of social distancing.”

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

This is a rapidly evolving story, and we are working hard to bring you the most up-to-date information. However, we recommend checking the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Indiana State Department of Health for the most recent numbers of COVID-19 cases.