Ralston: Teacher pay hikes, tax cuts both in question

ATLANTA -Georgia House Speaker David Ralston cast serious doubts  that the state will be able to afford either a teacher pay raise or an income tax cut because of the coronavirus pandemic’s economic impact. The $28.1 billion fiscal 2021 state budget the House passed this month days before suspending the 2020 legislative session because of COVID-19 includes a $1,000 pay increase for teachers, down from the $2,000 raise Gov. Brian Kemp recommended in January. The same day House members approved the budget, they passed legislation to reduce Georgia’s income tax rate from 5.75% to 5.375%, effective next Jan. 1. Ralston said at the time that cutting taxes is what Republicans do. “Those are both probably going to have to come out now,” the speaker said Friday on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “Political Rewind” program. “I’m not sure a tax cut in this type of emergency is the wisest course to do, and I don’t think giving a huge pay raise to one group of state employees is a wise course to do,” he added. “Those two items took up a lot of room in the budget that we, frankly, may not have now.” States across the country are taking a huge economic hit from the global pandemic, as businesses forced to shut down and workers thrown out of jobs generate far less tax revenue than would be available in normal times. A portion of the $2 trillion federal economic stimulus package that gained final passage in Congress on Friday – $150 billion – will go to help prop up state and local governments suffering from the economic impact of coronavirus. Many governors have predicted that won’t be nearly enough funding, and Congress will have to come back and approve another stimulus. The teacher pay raise, which Kemp promised on the campaign trail in 2018, was one of his key priorities entering this year’s General Assembly session, and Republican House leaders have made the tax cut a major goal. But Ralston said Friday all bets are off as the economic effects of the pandemic grow with the number of deaths and confirmed cases of COVID-19. “Just as Georgians are having to do … we’ve got to figure out as a state what do we absolutely need to run the state until we get back in session in January of ’21,” he said. One bit of good news, according to Ralston, is the state should have the ability with some adjustments to survive financially through the end of the current fiscal year June 30. Kemp already has signed the $27.5 billion mid-year budget the General Assembly passed earlier this month.

Georgia Historical Society makes resources available

 

ATLANTA — The Georgia Historical Society, the premier independent statewide institution responsible for collecting, examining, and teaching Georgia history is focused on meeting the needs of students by providing parents and educators with valuable tools during the COVID-19 school closures. To that end, information is now and will continue to be made available on our website, through direct interaction with our educator networks, and through all social media channels. GHS will also be working with a variety of educational and media partners to promote materials to additional audiences online and across the state.

“GHS has always been a trusted source of educational materials for teachers and students. Now, more than ever, we are committed to making every possible resource we can available to parents, teachers, and students as they navigate the world of online education during this challenging time,” said Dr. W. Todd Groce, President and CEO of the Georgia Historical Society.

Materials are aligned to state and national social studies standards and cover a variety of topics and people including the founding of Georgia highlighting General James Edward Oglethorpe, Tomochichi, and Mary Musgrove; Sequoyah and the development of the Cherokee alphabet; Jackie Robinson’s contributions to sportsmanship and civil rights; the Civil Rights Movement in Georgia; and Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts.

Other programs and initiatives will be centered around GHS’s award-winning Historical Marker Program including the Georgia Civil Rights Trail, the Civil War 150 project, and Georgia Business History Initiative; the Emmy Award-winning series Today in Georgia History, a joint production of GHS and Georgia Public Broadcasting; GHS Schoolhouse, an extensive library of video blog lessons on a wide variety of topics focused on understanding primary sources; Newspapers in Education, standards-based educational resources based on historical figures and topics from the Georgia History Festival; and other classroom-ready Georgia History Festival resources.

In the coming days, GHS will also continue to promote and share popular materials for at-home learners of all ages. Resources such as the GHS digital image catalog, recorded lectures, and Off the Deaton Path podcasts and blog posts provide engaging content for adult audiences as well as students. GHS will also harness the power of its affiliate chapters to bring even more content to educators and families across the state of Georgia to further diversify offerings during this time. These “Local History Highlights” will showcase the good work of GHS affiliate chapters and their efforts to reach local communities and remind Georgians of resources available in their area.

“We hope that everyone will take advantage of all that GHS has to offer,” added Groce. “The Georgia Historical Society is committed to providing these resources so our students can continue to learn, and we will continue to provide and develop new content as long as the need dictates.”

Please visit our website and follow the Georgia Historical Society on the following platforms:

For more information please contact Patricia Meagher at pmeagher@georgiahistory.com or by phone at 434.996.7085.

State extends unemployment benefits

ATLANTA – Today, Governor Brian P. Kemp and the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) addressed the unprecedented demand for economic relief for Georgians as witnessed in the recent unemployment claims numbers released this morning by the US Department of Labor.  This morning, Governor Kemp signed an Executive Order allowing GDOL Commissioner Mark Butler to issue two new emergency rules.

“As we work together as a state to combat COVID-19, Commissioner Butler and I are taking steps to ensure Georgia’s workforce is supported during this challenging time,” said Governor Kemp. “I ask Georgians to continue to support their local businesses by getting take-out, tipping well, and ordering your favorite products online, while also observing social distancing and following the directives of state and federal public health officials.”

For the week of March 15 through March 21, claims processed in Georgia increased to 12,140 initial claims, up 6,695 from the previous week’s 5,445 claims.  The GDOL anticipates substantially higher claims in the coming weeks already seeing a higher number of claims than were filed during the 2008-2009 recession.  In the first week of March, the GDOL saw 59,000 users on the website and yesterday reported 110,000 in one day.

The GDOL tackled this issue directly with the implementation of new emergency rules for unemployment benefits. One extends the length of time an individual can collect benefits from 14 weeks to 26 weeks.  Another rule provides that the first $300 of wages earned in a week will not count against eligible unemployment benefits paid. For example, if an individual has been laid off and takes a part-time job, he/she can now make up to $300 during the week and still receive their full unemployment amount.

“We understand Georgia businesses and workers are anxious during the COVID-19 public health crisis about how to take care of themselves, their families, and their businesses,” said Butler.  “We are making unprecedented modifications to policies to help all Georgians survive this economic hardship and get us all back to work.”

Other emergency rules were issued last week which expanded unemployment eligibility for applicants, suspended work search requirements, and relieved employers of benefit charges for COVID-19 related claims. Georgia unemployment benefits have now been expanded to cover individuals temporarily unable to work due to the COVID-19 public health emergency who plan to return to work when the emergency ceases.

Another rule assures that employers and non-profits will not be charged for COVID-19 related benefit claims. This means that their current tax rate will not be affected relieving them of the additional burden of higher unemployment taxes during our recovery.

Commissioner Butler also clarified that partial claims should be filed for both full-time and part-time employees. Filing of partial claims is being mandated for an employer to file on behalf of employees affected by COVID-19 and will expedite the issuance of payment. This process will also relieve the employer from having to certify each individual employee which would have extended the process by weeks.

In addition, work search and other in-person requirements are temporarily waived for benefit claimants. All of the GDOL emergency rules can be found on the agency’s website at https://dol.georgia.gov/laws-and-rules/gdol-rules

To assist applicants in the claims process, the GDOL has also implemented a new Claims Status Dashboard, an advancement not scheduled to be launched until Fall 2020, that will allow applicants to track their claim. New configuration changes are being made daily to improve the application process for individuals and employers.

GDOL is continuing to work with employers to get Georgians back to work.  Employers have been contacting the GDOL with job opportunities that are critical during this crisis – some in the workplace and others that can be done from home. Today, over 101,000 jobs are listed online at www.EmployGeorgia.com for Georgians to access. GDOL offers online resources for finding a job, building a resume, and assisting with other reemployment needs.

Information on filing an unemployment claim, details on how employers must file partial claims, and resources for other reemployment assistance can be found on the agency’s webpage at www.gdol.ga.gov

Georgia public schools shutting down through April 24

By Dave Williams
Bureau Chief
Capitol Beat News Service

ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp Thursday ordered Georgia’s public schools closed through April 24 as cases of coronavirus continue to rise.
“I am deeply grateful to State School Superintendent Richard Woods, the Georgia Department of Education, superintendents, and parents for keeping us informed and helping us make the right decision for our students,” Kemp said in a prepared statement.
“Throughout this process, we will continue to seek the advice of public health officials, school leaders, and families to ensure the health and safety of the educational community. As we approach April 24, 2020, we ask for continued patience and flexibility since circumstances may change, but we encourage families to stay strong and follow the guidance of federal, state, and local leaders in the weeks ahead.”
Georgia’s public colleges and universities and technical colleges, which were shut down earlier this month for the rest of the current semester, will continue to provide online instruction.
As Kemp made his announcement on the schools, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Georgia moved past 1,500, with 48 deaths reported from the virus.
As of noon Thursday, 1,525 Georgians had tested positive for COVID-19. Of those patients, 473 – or 31% – were hospitalized.
More than 8,900 Georgians have been tested for coronavirus, 1,646 by the state Department of Public Health and 7,280 by a commercial lab.
The virus has spread to 97 of Georgia’s 159 counties. Fulton County has the most COVID-19 cases with 211. Cases in Dougherty County have soared to 156, a huge number considering the county’s population.
DeKalb County was third as of noon Thursday with 129 positive cases, followed by Cobb County with 115, Bartow County with 86 and Gwinnett County with 75.

Graves announces modified congressional art competition

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA-14) ton Wednesday announced that his office will be hosting the annual Congressional Art Competition to encourage and recognize student artists from high schools across the 14th Congressional District. Each Spring, the Congressional Institute sponsors a nationwide high school visual art competition to recognize and encourage artistic talent across the nation and in each congressional district. The competition through Rep. Graves’ office this year will be modified due to the ongoing public health crisis, but participation is still encouraged and welcomed.

“Every year I am so impressed with the talent in Northwest Georgia, and this year will be no different,” said Rep. Graves. “Though many schools are closed right now, I am still encouraging students to share their creative talents with our community. I look forward to seeing all of the submissions and recognizing our local artists!”

This year, the Office of Rep. Graves has asked students and teachers to submit high resolution photos via email of any art that they would like to be part of the competition. An updated timeline, along with the required student release forms, can be seen below. The 1st place winner’s artwork will eventually be shipped to Washington, D.C., where it will remain on display in the Cannon House Office Building’s Capitol Tunnel for one year, alongside the 1st place artwork from every congressional district in the country. The deadline for art submissions is April 17, 2020.

The judges, chosen by the Rome Area Council of the Arts, will view the art digitally and will name the top three places as well as two honorable mentions. There will also be a people’s choice award, and the public will be able to view all of this year’s submissions via webpage on Rep. Graves’ official website. The webpage will be shared with the public in the coming weeks.

Students who would like to participate in the competition should email their high resolution photos and necessary attachments to Tracey.bartley@mail.house.gov and Valerie.jones@mail.house.gov.

Congressional Art Competition timeline:

April 17, 2020: Submission deadline for digital entries

April 20, 2020: Submissions forwarded to judging panel

May 1, 2020: Judges decisions due to Congressional office

Additional dates will be announced.

Gov. Kemp asking for health-care supplies to battle coronavirus  

By Dave Williams
Bureau Chief
Caipitol Beat News Service

ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp called on Georgia businesses Tuesday to step up in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and help by providing, producing, distributing or storing critical health-care supplies.
Specifically, the governor is asking for hospital beds, ventilators, surgical masks, N-95 masks or their equivalent, face shields, nitrile or latex-free gloves of various sizes, safety goggles, hand sanitizer, sanitizing spray, sanitizing wipes, hair covers, no-touch thermometers (regular if no-touch are not available), air purifying machines, negative pressure machines, sanitation units, shoe covers and Tyvek suits.
Those are the kinds of supplies that are running short around the world as the pandemic worsens, particularly in areas hardest hit by the virus.
“As our state’s hardworking health-care workers and first responders stand on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19, it is our job to come together as Georgians and arm them with the necessary resources to keep them safe and effective,” Kemp said. “I ask all Georgia businesses who are able to support us in the fight against this global pandemic.”
Kemp’s request came as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Georgia rose to 1,026, and the number of deaths increased to 32.
Businesses able to provide assistance and resources with factories already up and running, or facilities that can be repurposed for needed health-care supplies are asked to complete an informational form online at www.georgia.org/covid19response. The form is only for the purposes of collecting information and does not represent a commitment by the state to make a purchase.
The Georgia Department of Economic Development has been working to identify manufacturers and distributors across the state who have in their inventories, or could produce, distribute or store critical health-care supplies that are in short supply now or are likely to be in the coming weeks.
“We could not be more grateful for the dedication our medical workers, first responders, and partners have shown during this challenging time,” said Pat Wilson, the state’s commissioner of economic development. “They consistently continue to make Georgians’ health and safety their No.-1 priority.
“As we fight COVID-19 and its expanded consequences together, we thank our Georgia businesses who have stepped up to help our state and pledge the continued full support of the Georgia Department of Economic Development.”

Volunteer for COVID-19 response

ATLANTA —  The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) is receiving offers from medical professionals and other individuals looking for ways to help with the COVID-19 response. An effective response relies on volunteers who are pre-credentialed and organized. Georgia Responds is Georgia’s health and medical volunteer program which matches the skills and credentials of medical and nonmedical volunteers to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in Georgia.
Medical volunteers may be used to answer medical questions coming into the COVID-19 hotline, or assist at test specimen collection sites. Nonmedical volunteers may be used in administrative roles at either the call-center or test collection sites, or provide interpretation or other skills as needed.
To volunteer, log on to https://dph.georgia.gov/georgia-responds and click on the “Register Now” box. Registering only takes a few minutes. Prospective volunteers will be asked for their name, address, contact information and occupation type. In order to be eligible for some assignments, responders are encouraged to complete a profile summary, which includes skills and certifications, training, medical history, emergency contact and deployment preferences
Once your skills and credentials are reviewed, you will be notified by a DPH representative.
All Georgians play a critical role in helping to slow the spread of COVID-19 by adhering to the following guidance:
Practice social distancing by putting at least 6 feet between yourself and other people.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Stay home if you are sick.
Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water.
Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

Highland Rivers Health to maintain operations

DALTON – As an essential community healthcare provider, Highland Rivers Health is currently maintaining services at its nine outpatient clinics, but has instituted a host of infection control procedures at the clinics in order to protect staff and individuals coming in for services.
“We work with a vulnerable population that rely on us for services and support, and we have made a very conscious decision to maintain services while putting in place several infection control procedures,” said Highland Rivers Health CEO Melanie Dallas.
“The fact is, if you are living with mental health challenges or a substance use disorder, the stress of the current situation could exacerbate these conditions, so we simply will not abandon people who need us during this extraordinary time. At the same time, we are working to follow CDC guidelines to protect the health of these individuals and our staff to the greatest extent possible.”
Highland Rivers Health has deployed a pop-up window on its website home page to provide up-to-date information about operations and procedures. Currently, the agency wants individuals who may come in for services to be aware of the following (which is also included on the agency website):
Please do not come into a clinic if you have symptoms of respiratory illness such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, or if you have been told by a doctor to self-quarantine at home.
You may see clinic staff wearing gloves and/or face masks – these staff are not sick but are taking extra precautions to protect themselves. If we experience staff shortages due to illness, your wait time to see a provider may be longer.
You will need to come into the clinic to check-in, and will be asked questions to determine if you have symptoms or may have been exposed to someone who does. These questions help protect you, our staff and the other individuals who are receiving services.
You will be asked if you would agree to see a Highland Rivers doctor to prescribe medications using a tele-health video system.
Once you check-in, you will be asked to wait outdoors or in your car. We will send you a text message when your provider is ready to see you. If you have been dropped off and are unable to wait outdoors, please remember to maintain six feet of distance between yourself and others in the waiting room.
We will not let you run out of your medications. If you need medication refills but are unable to visit your regular clinic, please call the clinic and let us know. We will work with you to make arrangements to ensure you have your medications.
If you are receiving services through other Highland Rivers programs, please contact your case manager, program lead or program assistant for information about program changes, appointments and medication refills.
Highland Rivers Health has instituted an internal Covid-19 response team that includes the CEO, COO, Chief Medical Officer, the directors of nursing, clinical services, outpatient services, and human resources, among others. The team meets via conference call every morning to assess needs throughout the agency, staff absences, service availability, critical supply chain issues, tele-health procedures and more, as the circumstances dictate. Agency leaders have developed a comprehensive but flexible response plan to guide the agency during the pandemic and address emergent issues.

For up-to-date information about the agency’s services and onsite infection control procedures, please visit: hhtp://highlandrivershealth.com

SBA offers disaster assistance loans to Georgia

ATLANTA – The U.S. Small Business Administration is offering low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to Georgia small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza announced today. SBA acted under its own authority, as provided by the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act that was recently signed by the President, to declare a disaster following a request received from Gov. Brian P. Kemp on March 17, 2020.

The disaster declaration makes SBA assistance available in the entire state of Georgia; and the contiguous counties of Barbour, Chambers, Cherokee, Cleburne, De Kalb, Henry, Houston, Jackson, Lee, Randolph, and Russell in Alabama; Baker, Columbia, Gadsden, Hamilton, Jackson, Jefferson, Leon, Madison, and Nassau in Florida; Cherokee, Clay, Jackson, and Macon in North Carolina; Abbeville, Aiken, Allendale, Anderson, Barnwell, Edgefield, Hampton, Jasper, McCormick, and Oconee in South Carolina; Bradley, Hamilton, Marion, and Polk in Tennessee.

“SBA is strongly committed to providing the most effective and customer-focused response possible to assist Georgia small businesses with federal disaster loans. We will be swift in our efforts to help these small businesses recover from the financial impacts of the Coronavirus (COVID-19),” said Administrator Carranza.

SBA Customer Service Representatives will be available to answer questions about SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program and explain the application process.

“Small businesses, private non-profit organizations of any size, small agricultural cooperatives and

small aquaculture enterprises that have been financially impacted as a direct result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) since Jan. 31, 2020, may qualify for Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million to help meet financial obligations and operating expenses which could have been met had the disaster not occurred,” said Carranza.

“These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact. Disaster loans can provide vital economic assistance to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing,” Carranza added.

Eligibility for Economic Injury Disaster Loans is based on the financial impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). The interest rate is 3.75 percent for small businesses. The interest rate for private non-profit organizations is 2.75 percent. SBA offers loans with long-term repayments in order to keep payments affordable, up to a maximum of 30 years and are available to entities without the financial ability to offset the adverse impact without hardship.

Applicants may apply online, receive additional disaster assistance information and download applications at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. Applicants may also call SBA’s Customer Service Center at (800) 659-2955 or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov for more information on SBA disaster assistance. Individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing may call (800) 877-8339. Completed applications should be mailed to U.S. Small Business Administration, Processing and Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport Road, Fort Worth, TX 76155.

The deadline to apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan is Dec. 18, 2020.
For more information about Coronavirus, please visit: Coronavirus.gov.
For more information about available SBA resources and services, please visit: SBA.gov/coronavirus.

About the U.S. Small Business Administration

The U.S. Small Business Administration makes the American dream of business ownership a reality. As the only go-to resource and voice for small businesses backed by the strength of the federal government, the SBA empowers entrepreneurs and small business owners with the resources and support they need to start, grow or expand their businesses, or recover from a declared disaster. It delivers services through an extensive network of SBA field offices and partnerships with public and private organizations. To learn more, visit www.sba.gov.

Beware of COVID-19 scams

ATLANTA – Attorney General Chris Carr is encouraging Georgians to remain vigilant and only rely on trusted sources when it comes to information concerning COVID-19.  Various scams already have been discovered that are designed solely to deceive and disrupt local, state and federal responses to the pandemic. Scammers continue to monitor the headlines looking for ways to steal money and/or personally identifiable information from Americans.

“Criminals continue to exploit the COVID-19 outbreak – trying to  steal, deceive and disrupt,” said Attorney General Chris Carr. “We often see fraudsters use texts, and unfortunately, they are at it once again. If you or anyone you know receives one of these texts, please immediately contact our office or law enforcement so we can better protect Georgians during this difficult time.”

At this time, the legislation aiming to provide Americans with money to support them during the COVID-19 outbreak is still in draft form. Reports that checks are currently available are false – Congress is still debating this issue. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer. If passed, the government will not text you nor ask you to pay anything up front to get this money, and the government will not call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer. If you spot one of these scams, please contact our office or notify the Federal Trade Commission: www.ftc.gov/complaint.

Again, DO NOT respond to texts and emails about checks from the government. We join the Federal Trade Commission in reiterating the following tips to help you keep the scammers at bay:

  • Hang up on robocalls. Don’t press any numbers. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from scam Coronavirus treatments to work-at-home schemes. The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it might lead to more robocalls, instead.
  • Fact-check information. Scammers, and sometimes well-meaning people, share information that hasn’t been verified. Before you pass on any messages, contact trusted sources. Visit What the U.S. Government is Doing for links to federal, state and local government agencies.
  • Know who you’re buying from. Online sellers may claim to have in-demand products, like cleaning, household, and health and medical supplies when, in fact, they don’t.
  • Don’t respond to texts and emails about checks from the government. The details are still being worked out. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer.
  • Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know. They could download viruses onto your computer or device.
  • Watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying they have information about the virus. For the most up-to-date information about the Coronavirus, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Ignore online offers for vaccinations. There currently are no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) — online or in stores.
  • Do your homework when it comes to donations, whether through charities or crowdfunding sites. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it.

For information on COVID-19, see the following resources:

  • What You Should Know – How COVID-19 Spreads, Symptoms, etc. (here)
  • Updates from Governor Kemp’s Coronavirus Task Force (here)
  • How Is Georgia Responding to COVID-19 (here)
  • Situation Summary (here)
  • Avoid Scams (here) or (here)
  • Preventing COVID-10 Spread in Communities (here)
  • Higher Risk & Special Populations (here)
  • Healthcare Professionals (here)
  • Resources for Healthcare Facilities (here)
  • Resources for Health Departments (here)
  • Laboratories (here)
  • Communication Resources (here)

To file a complaint with the Georgia Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division:

  • CALL: 404-651-8600 inside the metro Atlanta area
  • CALL: 1-800-869-1123 toll-free outside of the metro Atlanta calling area
  • To report suspected scams online, visit consumer.ga.gov.