News from the Missourinet

Missouri congressman: Some flood victims in danger of being victimized twice

Northern Missouri Congressman Sam Graves says some flood victims from last year could be victimized twice if Congress doesn’t act. Graves says the Federal Emergency Management Agency is attempting to reclaim some federal disaster assistance it allocated last year.

Flooding in Crag, MO (Photo courtesy of Brent Martin)

“This may not be a whole lot of money to FEMA, but in one case I know for instance it was $12,000 for an individual to be able to fix their home, to be able to repair their home, and then what happens is FEMA comes back and says we gave that to you mistakenly; we want it back,” Graves tells Missourinet affiliate KFEQ in St. Joseph.

Graves says the problem seems to be most pronounced in Holt County, especially in the city of Craig. He says the problem arose when the state of Missouri made two separate flood disaster assistance requests to the president that created a 15-day gap in which victims weren’t technically eligible for federal aid.

The bill Graves is pushing would not apply to efforts by FEMA to recoup federal disaster assistance obtained through fraud.

“These are not fraud situations. These are individuals, through no fault of their own, they applied, they were told that they should apply, and FEMA granted them those dollars,” according to Graves. “And, then, to come back and say that well, now you have to pay it back is just flat out wrong. And so, what we have said is if this is not the fault of the individual, if this is FEMA’s fault, then FEMA’s going to have to bear it.”

Concerns about the coronavirus have dominated Washington, D.C. and delayed work on other issues. Graves’ legislation made it out of the Transportation Committee in February, then got pushed aside as Congress worked to address the pandemic.

A spokesman for the Congressman says Graves hopes to revive the measure whenever Congress returns to regular order and will push for flood action in the United States House.

By Brent Martin of Missourinet affiliate KFEQ in St. Joseph

Copyright © 2020 · Missourinet

Every available Missouri state trooper is on the road and water this Memorial Day weekend

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You’ll notice extra Missouri state troopers on the road throughout the long Memorial Day weekend.

A Missouri state trooper clocks a motorist driving 115 miles-per-hour in April on eastbound I-44, near Highway 141 in Valley Park (photo courtesy of the Missouri State Highway Patrol)

Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain John Hotz describes the holiday weekend as the unofficial start of the summer season.

“We know that a lot of people are ready to get out and enjoy the outdoors and travel is part of that,” Hotz says. “Again, we just urge people to be careful.”

During Missouri’s 2019 Memorial Day weekend, eight motorists were killed and another 433 suffered injuries in more than 1,000 traffic crashes.

Troopers are focusing this weekend on speeding, impaired drivers and seat belt use.

Every available trooper will be on the road throughout the weekend, enforcing traffic laws and also helping motorists. Captain Hotz says the Patrol is participating in Operation C.A.R.E., which stands for Crash Awareness Reduction Effort.

“There will be of course overtime projects, saturating areas that we know there is going to be a high number of traffic violations or traffic crashes,” says Hotz.

Troopers are especially concerned about speeding and increasing fatalities, despite traffic being down 50 percent in parts of Missouri because of COVID-19.

There have been 288 traffic fatalities statewide in 2020, compared to 271 at this time last year.

In April, at least three state Department of Transportation (MoDOT) trucks were struck by motorists, despite the falling traffic volumes. And state troopers also clocked a man driving 143 miles-per-hour on Highway 65 near west-central Missouri’s Sedalia in April.

Troopers will also be visible on lakes, rivers and streams this weekend. The Highway Patrol is assigning additional state troopers to the waterways.

Captain Hotz urges boaters to wear a life jacket, and to never ride with an impaired operator.

“We know particularly with COVID-19 and all the CDC guidelines on social distancing, we’ve seen a lot of people taking to their waterways to enjoy that,” Hotz says.

There were seven boating crashes during Missouri’s 2019 Memorial Day weekend. Those crashes killed two people and injured three.

 

 

 

 

Missouri to ramp up COVID-19 testing next week but who’s paying for it?

State officials hope to complete about 7,500 coronavirus tests daily starting next week. During today’s briefing, Gov. Mike Parson says the plan will focus on three main testing strategies – box-in outbreaks, sentinel testing, ad community sampling.

“This will allow us to keep the virus contained by identifying and isolating additional positive cases as quickly as possible,” says Parson. “Once our testing numbers are up, we will be able to re-evaluate and determine what is needed moving forward. The more testing we do, the more knowledge we have on what the situation in Missouri actually looks like and the better equipped we are to move forward.”

Gov. Mike Parson

The box-in approach will target long-term care sites, including nursing homes and assisted living centers for senior citizens, by testing staff and residents facility-wide. The goal with this strategy is to identify and isolate additional positive cases as quickly as possible. By “boxing-in” outbreaks in these places, this strategy aims to keep the virus contained and prevent further spreading.

Parson says 163 Missouri long-term care centers have had at least one COVID-19 case.

Sentinel testing is planned for next week at state-operated veterans nursing homes, prisons, and mental health centers in 28 counties over a ten-day period. Performing the periodic testing helps to identify and isolate not only symptomatic individuals but also asymptomatic individuals to keep them from unknowingly spreading the virus within the facility.

Community test sampling is also planned next week in six counties over ten days, including in Boone, Cape Girardeau, Greene, Jackson, Jefferson, and St. Charles. State Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams says election for community sampling is based on locations with the ability to draw participants from a broader region as well as locations that have expressed a need for additional testing resources. It is not based on the number of COVID-19 cases in these counties.

Community sampling is intended to give the state a better sense of COVID-19 prevalence in a given area to help guide its response and ease uncertainty. Parson says if prevalence is low, this will help reassure citizens that it is safe to begin re-engaging in the community and returning to somewhat normal operations. If prevalence is higher, Parson says steps will be taken to keep the virus from spreading further in the community but did not elaborate on what this would look like.

How’s the testing being paid for?

“All the testing is pretty well right now going to be paid out of the CARES Act for COVID-19,” says Parson. “There’s a lot of money on the local levels for testing – that’s what we’re really emphasizing that money they’re sending out. So the local levels are going to be responsible too. The state is not going to come in and do their testing for them for free. If they have the funds and the resources to do it, whether it be the counties or the health departments, they’re going to have to help with that. Number two, when we go looking kind of in the private sector when we’re going around there, if the companies have the ability to pay for it through the insurance companies, they’re going to have to pay for that also.”

Due to a glitch, Kansas City has been left empty-handed when it comes to federal coronavirus funding and its corresponding counties don’t seem to want to play ball and share the aid Washington has sent to them. Parson says he’s willing to help with testing in Kansas City, but he doesn’t want to open up a can of worms.

“We’re not going to get in the middle of turf battles up there. I mean that’s an issue up there between the counties and the city and that region,” says Parson. “So I’m not sure if that’s my place to fight that battle. We’re here in a support role to help them. I don’t think the state is here to take over the local levels and tell them what to do and what not to do.”

On Thursday, an informal group appointed by the governor to advise him how to spend CARES Act funding coming into the state held a public meeting. State Representative David Wood, R-Versailles, takes issue with local health departments footing the bill for testing services through local CARES ACT funding.

“Basically, you have no plans of sending money down, even though they are doing your work and they are funded through you, you’re having them compete for the dollars that are sent to the county,” asks Wood. “I’ve made that point in budget committee numbers of times that if Health and Senior Services is receiving additional funds from COVID money, whatever pot it’s coming from and they are not passing on to the people doing the work, that to me is … (mumbled expletive).”

State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick says Missouri has about $1.5 billion in federal funding to work with after buying personal protective equipment for state health and frontline workers.

Copyright © 2020 · Missourinet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CARES Act spending team hears the up-to-date coronavirus needs of Missouri agencies, businesses

The informal advisory group appointed by Gov. Mike Parson heard a wish list from a series of state agency and organization leaders about how to spend CARES Act funding coming into the state.

State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick says Missouri has about  $1.5 billion dollars to work with after buying personal protective equipment for state health and frontline workers. As CARES Act money — and mandatory guidelines — come from the federal government, the team will recommend spending priorities to the governor.

Fitzpatrick says the panel is “still in information-gathering mode.’

The team met for more than four hours at the Capitol and remotely on Thursday. In the first hour, Missouri DHSS Director Randall Williams briefed the panel on the state’s approach to testing and how it could be paid for. Williams explained a three-pronged approach to add to current PCR (nasal swab sampling) infection tests given to individuals who ask for it.

  • “Boxed-in” approach:
    Williams says there will be outbreaks and each county needs to be ready to address those flare-ups by testing everyone involved.
    “We go in and test all the staff, all the residents because we know when this gets into congregated facilities, whether it be prisons or cruise ships or nursing homes or cruise ships, this tends to be very infectious,” Williams said. He said Medicare and Medicaid will pay for this testing and he wants health care facilities to seek this insurance rather than the state pay for it. State Budget Director Dan Haug says the state will reimburse large facilities and agencies through $135 million from coronavirus relief funds recently allocated for testing.
  • Community sampling:
    Williams says communities are asking DHSS to come in to do “snapshot” or random sampling to extrapolate from a small number what a larger number of cases might be. The department sampled 12 counties three weeks ago and found nine COVID-19 cases out of 3,000 tested. They are now testing in Buchanan and Andrew County. St. Louis County will be testing 5,000 people to be paid for locally
  • Sentinel testing:
    The health department picks areas of high morbidity and mortality or long-term care facilities to do periodic testing. Williams says there is a plan to put these in place around the state, in order to predict outbreaks before large-scale hospitalizations.

Versailles Republican, Rep. David Wood took issue with local health departments having to foot the bill for testing services, relying on local general CARES funding to the county to be allocated to them

“Basically you have no plans of sending money down, even though they are doing your work and they are funded through you, you’re having them compete for the dollars that are sent to the county?”

I’ve made that point in budget committee numbers of times that if Health and Senior Services is receiving additional funds from COVID money, whatever pot it’s coming from and they are not passing on to the people doing the work, that to me is … (mumbled expletive).”

Unemployment, tourism, job training needs 

Chris Slinkard, Director at Missouri Division of Employment Security discussed the health of the state Unemployment Trust Fund.

“The trust fund at the beginning of this year was at almost $1.1 billion, the largest in state history,” he told the panel. “On May 18, 2020, the UI Trust Fund balance was $858 million; the majority what was given out has come from the U.S. CARES Act.”

Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry President and CEO Dan Mehan

Missouri Chamber of Commerce President Dan Mehan also spoke to the group, seeking more attention for the state’s apprenticeship and internship program for workers who may not get their jobs back.

“If you look at where we would prioritize, it’s about the testing and it’s about the people. It’s about the apprenticeship and internship approach that when people talk infrastructure, the term shovel-ready got kind of a bad connotation, we have shovels in the ground in these apprenticeship programs and they are working,” Mehan said.

Mehan also said that businesses opening up need some help by a temporary law.

“We sent a letter to the governor two days ago asking for a special session to consider lawsuit protection. There are a lot of employers out there that are fearful or reopening their doors for fears being sued for whatever possible reason even though they try to open responsibly, safely, with PPE and try to follow CDC guidelines, guidelines of the state and we’d just like to have some sort of temporary — not global — but temporary immunity from lawsuits that could occur from this.

“We’ve seen hundreds crop up around the country. The fear of lawsuits is going to hinder our recovery in a big way,” Mehan said.

Stephen Foutes, Director for the Missouri Division of Tourism reported losses compared to the normal brought in by sightseers and visitors.

“Approximately $2.16 billion in tourism-related spending has been lost from February 29 through May 9 of this year as compared to roughly the same time last year, ” Foutes said. ”

“Since early March both the tourism economy and the industry employment have plummeted,” he added. One-third of the tourism industry in Missouri has filed for unemployment.

Zora Mulligan released information from a public and private college and university survey on how higher education institutions are trying to cope with budget cuts and the demands of creating online learning.

“If I have one big takeaway from this survey is that institutions worked really hard, as did students, to figure out ways to make this work this spring semester. But if this is to be a longer-term strategy, we’ve got a lot of additional investment that we’re going to need to make in terms of professional development, advising, infrastructure, student capacity, and then the larger broadband system in which this operates,” Mulligan summarized.

Department of Education and Secondary Education’s Jeff Falter agreed with Mulligan that broadband capacity across the state is a major problem.

“Districts report an estimated 23 percent of students are without internet access — or one out of every five students,” he told the panel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Missouri lawmakers: major PPE donation highlights importance of Missouri State Defense Force

Two state lawmakers from eastern Missouri’s St. Charles County have worked with a former Missouri State Defense Force member to secure 3,000 protective face shields for health care workers across the state.

Missouri State Defense Force members Sgt. Tim Coen (left) and Col. Art Bottorff carry boxes of protective face shields, along with State Rep. Adam Schnelting, R-St. Charles, and Missouri House Speaker Pro Tem John Wiemann, R-O’Fallon (May 2020 photo courtesy of Pro Tem Wiemann’s office)

House Speaker Pro Tem John Wiemann, R-O’Fallon, and State Rep. Adam Schnelting, R-St. Charles, partnered with former Missouri State Defense Force member Col. Art Bottorff. Wiemann says the donation will be distributed by the Missouri Hospital Association, through the State Emergency Management Agency.

“And will go to hospitals that are in the most highest need that have a low supply of face shields,” Wiemann says.

The shields will also go to health care workers in high-need clinics, along with EMS and shelter employees.

Wiemann tells Missourinet he’s grateful for the former members of the State Defense Force, for the donation. Wiemann, Schnelting and Col. Bottorff coordinated the donation, after working with GetMePPENational and its affiliate, Boston Scientific. They also worked with the Purdue University Parents Association.

The face shields were made by Boston Scientific.

Pro Tem Wiemann describes face shields as an extra layer of protection, for workers who wear masks.

“When you’re in a medical environment, there are liquids, there are airborne things that are floating in the air, that someone could cough in your face, and it may not necessarily block them from getting into your eyes or other parts of your body,” says Wiemann.

As for Representative Schnelting, he’s a former member of the Missouri State Defense Force. The freshman Republican is crediting the organization for helping to secure the donation. Schnelting notes the health care employees will be receiving CDC and FDA-certified protective face shields.

Schnelting, who serves on the Missouri House Special Committee on Homeland Security, notes the State Defense Force has a dual mission: homeland security and disaster response.

“So securing items like PPE for those on the front lines in a scenario like this pandemic plays right into the purpose of the State Defense Force,” Schnelting says.

The State Defense Force was a military reserve force in Missouri that was inactivated due to budgetary concerns, on the same day the state received its first case of COVID-19. Col. Bottorff praises the Legislature for restoring funding for the Force, last week. The Colonel also says he hopes Governor Mike Parson “will see the great value of reactivating the State Defense Force.”

Schnelting says the shields will be deployed to health care workers, with the greatest need in the state.

Pro Tem Wiemann credits Bottorff for identifying the face shields, which were being warehoused in another state.

“We knew we needed to move quickly because these face shields are in high demand,” Wiemann says.

Wiemann and Schnelting also praise Missouri’s physicians, nurses, EMS and other first responders who are working around the clock to keep residents safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northwest Missouri manufacturer could lay off 85 workers by end of July

A northwest Missouri manufacturer has notified the state that it may reduce its workforce this summer. Battery maker Exide Technologies has started Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings while trying to arrange the sale of the company. Exide’s plant in Forest City is hoping to avoid laying off 85 workers.

“If the Company does not enter into an agreement with a purchaser to sell the business, the Company currently expects that it will be forced to conduct reductions-in-force or plant closings. Alternatively, if the Company does enter into an agreement with a purchaser to sell the business, the purchaser may elect not to continue to operate the business as a going concern or to offer employment to all of the Company’s employees,” the letter to the state says.

The notice from Exide to the mayor of Forest City and the state says that if layoffs do occur, they could be permanent and happen towards the end of July.

The company has also notified the union representing the workers.

Forest City is a town of about 250 people.

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