COVID-19 sparks state unemployment, postpones Indy 500

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By Jarred Meeks

A state staple was postponed today while state officials reported mass numbers filing for unemployment and that the state is dipping into financial reserves, all in response to COVID-19, the disease stemming from the new coronavirus.

The Indianapolis 500 was rescheduled for August 23 today. The race was originally scheduled for May 24.

“The health and safety of our event participants and spectators is our top priority, and we believe, given the current situation, postponing the event is the responsible decision,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles stated in a letter.

“We’re confident we can deliver a world-class experience in August and are already working to do so. Making this announcement now gives everyone ample time to adjust and prepare for the new date. The new schedule will include many of the on-track activities that make the lead-up to the ‘500’ so special.”

Fast Friday, qualifying, Carb Day’s pit stop competition and the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race will all take place, beginning with the first day of NTT Indycar Series practice, on Aug. 12, according to the letter.

“I 110 percent support the decision to postpone it,” Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said at a press conference. “I’m just tickled that we’re still going to have it. And we’ll welcome the world back to the state of Indiana at that time.”

Also today, Fred Payne, commissioner of the Indiana Dept. of Workforce Development, said the state saw 62,777 new unemployment insurance claims filed in the week ending on March 21.

In the same week, the U.S. Dept. of Labor reported 3,283,000 unemployment insurance claims in a report released today, up by more than 3 million from a week prior.

There were only 3,400 unemployment insurance claims filed in Indiana a week prior, according to Payne. He said Indiana reported the most number of claims reported in a month in March 2009, during the financial crash: 157,000 claims were filed that month.

In January, Payne said 23,000 unemployment insurance claims were filed. During the month, Indiana’s unemployment rate hovered close to 3.1 percent, and the state reported the highest number of people working in its history.

The DWD in response has suspended the one-week waiting period that is required before paying unemployment benefits to allow claimants to receive their checks more quickly. The suspension is retroactive to March 8.

The federal government, in response to the sharp uptick in claims, has extended unemployment benefits by 13 weeks. It will also grant those filing for unemployment an extra $600 a week in addition to their state benefits for four months, a part of a $2 trillion stimulus package approved by the Senate last night.

Though the stimulus package will help, Chris Johnston, director of the Indiana Office of Management and Budget, said the state has started to dip into its $2.3 billion in reserves to confront the public health emergency. He did not specify how much has been used, but he confirmed that state tax revenue is expected to be less in the next several months.

“We will be using our reserves to maintain our priority services and those required by this public emergency,” Johnston said during a press conference. “Some of those include fronting payments for (personal protective equipment), helping front some of the cost until reimbursement on utilized staffing and resources. There are also programs that currently exist in state government that we could activate and elevate, such as community partners at the Dept. of Child Services.”

Holcomb also signed an executive order today signaling more efforts to contain the virus’ spread. The executive order will allow Hoosiers with chronic health issues to receive a 90-day supply of their non-controlled prescription medication, such as insulin or cholesterol medications, according to a press release. Medicaid recipients will also be able to use their benefits to cover the costs of using alternate forms of transportation, such as ride-sharing services for appointments to see their healthcare providers.

His executive order waved provisions restricting the release of certain COVID-19 information to the Indiana Network for Patient Care so it can do research on the disease for the Indiana State Dept. of Health.

The Family and Social Services Administration now has additional funding flexibility to allow for additional home delivery of meals, according to a press release. In addition, The Dept. of Local Government Finance has extended deadlines related to local government finances.

The ISDH announced today that 170 Indiana residents have been diagnosed with COVID-19. To date, 645 Indiana residents are known to have the disease following corrections to the previous day’s total. Seventeen Hoosiers have died from the disease.

A total of 4,651 tests have been reported to the ISDH, up from 3,356 on Wednesday.


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