COVID-19 Texas News for Lobbyists

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The Governor and other state and local elected officials have continued to take emergency actions this week to slow the spread of COVID-19 and assist Texans impacted by the pandemic:

Cities, Counties Issue Shelter-in-Place Orders. Many of Texas’s largest cities and counties have ordered residents to stay indoors as much as possible in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, including the cities of Austin, Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, El Paso, Waco, and Lubbock. While the details vary by jurisdiction, the orders generally require that residents work from home if possible, that non-essential businesses remain closed and that residents not congregate in large groups to avoid spreading infection.

Governor Issues Self-Quarantine Rules for Air Travelers. On March 26, Governor Gregg Abbott issued an executive order requiring those traveling to Texas from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New Orleans to self-quarantine for 14 days or for the duration of their stay in Texas – whichever is shorter. Travelers must designate a location for their quarantine and cannot have visitors. The restrictions do not apply to non-air travel.

State Receives Initial Allotment from CDC. On March 23, Governor Abbott announced that Texas had received $36.9 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of the state’s initial allotment of funding from the emergency coronavirus bill passed by Congress. The Texas Department of State Health Services will distribute $19.5 million to local health departments to aid in their COVID-19 response, including $1.75 million for Dallas County, Tarrant County, and the San Antonio Metro Health District. The remaining funds will be used by DSHS to support operations in areas of the state not covered by local health departments and for statewide response activities.

SBA Loans Available in Texas. On March 20, The US Small Business Administration approved qualifying small businesses in Texas to apply for up to $2 million in long-term, low-interest Economic Injury Disaster Loans. Loans may be used to cover payroll, fixed debt, accounts payable and other bills. They carry an interest rate of 3.75% for small businesses without credit available and 2.75% for nonprofits. Small businesses can apply for the loans online.

Governor Postpones May 26 Runoffs. On March 20, Governor Abbott issued a proclamation postponing the runoff primary election until July 14, 2020 – the same day as the special election to replace Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) in Texas State Senate District 14. The election was originally scheduled for May 26.

Governor Waives Licensing Regulations for Nurses. On March 25, Governor Abbott waived certain regulations from the Texas Board of Nursing regarding licensing renewal and fees for nurses in Texas. The waiver authorizes a six-month grace period for nurses with expired licenses, will allow nurses who are otherwise in good standing to continue practicing, and will give nurses additional time to renew their license without added fees and penalties. 

State Requests Loosening of SNAP Rules. On March 25, Governor Abbott and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission sent a letter to the United States Department of Agriculture seeking permission to allow Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients to use their benefits at take out and drive thru restaurants throughout the state as Texas continues to combat COVID-19. “The state must do everything it can to make life more manageable for citizens and ensure that Texans can provide meals for their families,” said Governor Abbott.