“Keep your face to the sun and you will never see the shadows.” ~ Helen Keller

We are in a “hurry up and pass the budget” mini session and expect to take a break at the end of the week until June 1. All regular calendars in committees and on the Floor have been suspended so we can focus on our constitutional requirement to pass a budget. They’ve also put many safety measures in place around the Capitol and the Cordell Hull Building. Our building is closed to everyone except elected members, staff and the media. Half the chairs have been removed from the committee rooms to spread us out and members are even encouraged to sit in and vote from the House Gallery to prevent us from being too closely together on the House Floor. Since this is normally the busiest time of the year for us, it’s eerie to see the empty halls and the missing lobbyists, constituents, and liaisons.

The Governor is supposed to have us a barebones budget this week for us to pass and make sure we don’t shut down if the unexpected happens and we can’t get a quorum back before July 1. When we come back, we’ll look at what they consider “appropriations amendments” that deal with funds for bills that aren’t included in the budget, local government projects, and government agencies.

I still have eight to 10 bills that I need to finish up this year. None of them made the short list related to the budget or other time sensitive subjects such as elections or education, so I hope we get to them when we come back from this break. They did pass out our local bills, so that is good news.

We are working very hard with the state departments to see if we can get aid out to those most negatively affected by the virus. Many meetings and planning sessions are going on all over the place to see what our Tennessee government can do to help our citizens. We are getting daily press releases about their efforts and I wanted to share a few of them with you.

One example is TANF Emergency Benefits during COVID-19. The Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) will be issuing Emergency Pandemic TANF which is an emergency cash assistance program for those impacted by COVID-19. To qualify, a family must:

•        Have children under 18 in the household

•        Be at or below the 85th percentile of the State Median Income. (Below approximately $52,000 a year for a family of 3)

•        Be able to show they are impacted by COVID-19. (Examples: job loss due to employer closure for COVID-19)

The emergency benefits will be available for up to two months. The benefit is $500 for a family of one to two people, $750 for a family of three to four and $1,000 for a family of five-plus. TDHS encourages individuals who wish to apply to go ahead and begin gathering birth certificates, tax returns, school attendance records, or other documentation, to verify that there are children in the household. This program is NOT currently operational but the Department is anticipating the program details, including qualifications and requirements, will be available within the week. They want to ask Tennesseans in need to apply online when the application becomes available at https://www.tn.gov/humanservices.html in order to encourage social distancing.

The Department of Labor and Workforce Development is also doing their best to help and they have new resources available for employers and employees impacted by the COVID-19 emergency. The Department updated its www.tn.gov/workforce website to put information and resources in a convenient place for workers and employers to access. Employees have the opportunity to learn more about the unemployment benefits process and can also find answers to many of the questions they may have as they deal with the impact COVID-19 is having on their source of income.

Individuals out of work due to COVID-19 can file for Tennessee unemployment insurance benefits by visiting www.Jobs4TN.gov. Several different eligibility factors will determine the approval of a worker’s claim. The COVID-19 emergency has created a tremendous amount of new unemployment claims and the Department is processing those claims as quickly as possible.

Gov. Bill Lee announced on Wednesday that he has submitted a request for Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Once the declaration is made, all Tennessee small businesses and nonprofit organizations that have suffered economic injury as a result of COVID-19 will be eligible to apply for disaster loan assistance of up to $2 million per applicant. The loans can be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable or other bills that can’t be paid due to the disaster’s impact. Additional information about Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance, along with instructions on where to apply, will be announced once the declaration has been received. Small businesses are encouraged to learn more about resources offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration at www.sba.gov.

The Department of Safety is also trying to make things easier and limit in person visits. At this time, most State Driver Services Centers are still open. In addition, starting March 20th, the Department is waiving the requirement that you have to appear in person if you need a new photograph taken through Oct. 1, 2021. This will allow some of you to renew online and not have to go to the Driver Service Center. In addition, all Driver Licenses, Learner Permits, Commercial Driver Licenses, Photo Identification Licenses (ID), and Handgun Carry Permits that would normally expire between March 12, 2020, and May 19, 2020, will be extended for six months from the expiration date. The Department will issue a letter of extension that you will need to keep with you during this extension.

My prayers are with you and your families. Please be smart and stay away from the danger and don’t panic. We will get through this. Our state and our country are in good shape, and our citizens are mostly loving, giving and caring. We will all work together to take care of each other. We are called the Volunteer State for a reason! My assistant and I will be working remotely for a few weeks, but you can still leave a message at 615-741-6824 or by email at rep.pat.marsh@capitol.tn.gov and we will get back to you.

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