Ricketts issues Executive Order on unemployment benefits and releases guidance for places of worship to resume services
At his daily coronavirus briefing on April 30, Governor Pete Ricketts announced that he has issued a new executive order (EO) pertaining to unemployment benefits. Among other things, the EO retroactively extends eligibility for pandemic-related unemployment benefits to include the week of March 15-21, 2020.
Nebraska Commissioner of Labor John Albin joined the Governor to discuss the new executive order. He also supplied an update on the Nebraska Department of Labor’s efforts to process unemployment claims.
Additionally, Gov. Ricketts issued guidance for faith communities as they resume worship services. As of May 4, places of worship statewide will no longer be subject to the 10-person social gathering limitation for their main services. However, they will be required to operate with physical distancing measures in place to protect the health of worshipers. The full guidance is available by clicking here.
Father Christopher Kubat, Pastor of St. Cecilia Catholic Church in Hastings, and Reverend Rich Snow, Nebraska District President of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, joined the Governor for the press briefing. They shared guidelines for churches to follow as they welcome worshipers back for services.
Gov. Ricketts: Continuing our Rules to Keep Nebraska Healthy
· As we move into a new phase of our social mitigation we are taking a regional approach to some re-openings.
· Our Six Rules to Keep Nebraska Healthy will remain in place statewide through at least the end of May.
o Stay home. No non-essential errands and no social gatherings. Respect the ten-person limit.
o Socially distance your work. Work from home or use the six-foot rule as much as possible in the workplace.
o Shop alone and only shop once a week. Do not take family with you.
o Help kids follow social distancing. Play at home. No group sports. And no playgrounds.
o Help seniors stay at home by shopping for them. Do not visit long-term care facilities.
o Exercise daily at home or with an appropriately socially-distanced activity.
· We need every Nebraskan to go to TestNebraska.com right now to fill out a quick health assessment.
· The assessments help us make the best decisions about where to set up test sites around the state.
Gov. Ricketts: Unemployment
· I have signed a new executive order to speed the processing of unemployment claims.
· Previously, I signed an executive order to waive provisions of unemployment insurance requirements for individuals affected by COVID-19.
· The new EO amends unemployment benefit eligibility to be retroactive back to March 15, 2020. This replaces the March 22, 2020 date specifically outlined in EO 20-14, and allows for one additional week of COVID-19 unemployment eligibility.
o Benefit weeks start on Sunday. So the benefit week added under the new EO is March 15-21, 2020.
o At our last town hall, an individual asked why the State did not make COVID-19 unemployment benefits available back to January.
o Nebraska offers Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) eligibility to the fullest extent allowed under the federal law. Our state was not affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in January. Nebraska entered an official state of emergency on March 13, 2020. Almost all Nebraskans who experienced a change in their employment status due to COVID-19 were affected in the weeks following the declaration of a state of emergency.
Commissioner Albin: Unemployment
· The Nebraska Department of Labor (NDOL) has taken in the equivalent of three years’ worth of claims in two months. NDOL has paid out two years’ worth of claims in that time.
· We’re continuously looking for ways to speed up the processing of claims.
· Forty percent of our claimants have multiple employers in their base period (the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters before the claim is filed). We’re required by statute to reach out to each of these employers to collect their information and to adjudicate any contradictory information regarding the separation of an employer and worker.
· The Governor’s new executive order enables us to limit our contacts to a claimant’s most recent employer. This will expedite our process tremendously.
· We now have the software infrastructure in place to process Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims.
· We’ve already made payment to 11,000 PUA claimants. There are about 5,500 additional claimants whom we expect to be eligible. Our team will be working this weekend to get more information from these individuals in order to process their claims.
· This week, NDOL paid out $7 million in PUA benefits, $11.6 in regular state unemployment, and over $45 million in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.
· We saw a 33% decrease in claims last week. It was the lowest number of claims we’ve received in the past six weeks. However, last week’s total is still almost double the amount of claims we received in any week in NDOL’s history prior to the current pandemic.
· We’re launching a project to better identify the older claims in our system so that we can prioritize processing them.
Fr. Christopher Kubat: Places of Worship
· People who are at risk are urged to stay home. Elderly individuals and those with underlying health conditions should not attend Mass. Neither should individuals who live in the same household as those who are elderly or have existing medical issues.
· People who are experiencing symptoms of illness should stay home, as should those who live with them.
· Anyone infected with the virus, who lives with someone with the virus, or has likely been exposed to the virus should stay home.
· I want to reassure people that the dispensation from their Sunday Mass obligations remains in force.
· For those who do come to Mass:
o People living in the same household should sit together.
o Household units should sit six feet apart from one another. We’re going to tape off every other pew to encourage physical distancing.
o Do not pass collection baskets. Do not hold hands. No sign of peace.
o Ushers will dismiss congregants pew by pew to help worshipers maintain a safe distance as they exit.
o Ushers can hold open doors as people enter and exit the church so that worshipers do not need to touch door handles.
o After each service, pews, restrooms, and door handles should be thoroughly sanitized.
o Small confessionals should not be used at this time to maintain six feet of physical distance.
o The 10-person rule remains in force for all gatherings at a church with the exception of the main worship services.
Rev. Rich Snow: Places of Worship
· Churches should start back up slowly and use caution. The purpose of this guidance is to look after those who are most vulnerable to the virus.
· At the same time, we understand the importance of nurturing people through crisis.
· We want to encourage churches to continue their digital presence—by using streaming, television, or radio—to help all congregants stay connected.
Gov. Ricketts: Nebraska Accommodation Program
· We continue to provide alternative housing for residents who have been exposed to COVID-19 and cannot safely quarantine or isolate themselves from household members with high-risk medical conditions.
· Two locations are up and running: The University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) and the University of Nebraska Kearney (UNK).
o UNO: 7 beds are occupied out of 240 available rooms (120 quarantine rooms, 120 isolation rooms).
o UNK: 1 bed is occupied out of 197 available rooms (99 quarantine rooms, 98 isolation rooms).
· Criteria for admission:
o High-risk medical condition in a full-time household member.
o No other options for a location to stay.
o Exposure information, such as the date of exposure.
· We also have a First Responder Program.
o This program is for first responders, medical workers, and corrections officers.
o At this time we have 25 individuals placed in hotels across the state.
§ Grand Island-11
§ Douglas/Sarpy County-8
o Individuals who qualify are placed in a hotel in their work city and can leave from the hotel to go to work.
o Individuals are permitted to stay for the entirety of the program or terminate their stay as they see fit.
· Individuals who wish to apply for accommodation should fill out the survey available by clicking here.