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State Rep. Jason Zachary’s Capitol Hill Review

Covid-19 testing increases as new tests become available

The state of Tennessee continues to make considerable progress increasing the number of Covid-19 tests being performed across our state. As of Friday morning, 59,849 Tennesseans have been tested, with 55,215 negative test results and 4,634 positive tests.

This week, the state received 120 Covid-19 rapid result tests. These new tests, which are manufactured by Abbott Laboratories, show a positive Covid-19 result in as little as five minutes and a negative result in about 13 minutes. Once these tests are maximized, this innovative testing technology will reduce the testing backlog on the state’s books. Private providers across Tennessee are also gaining access to these rapid tests, and more are expected to become available soon.

Currently, 500 National Guardsmen are working to support 37 assessment sites with a focus on our rural Tennessee communities.

New projections this week indicate a flattening of the virus curve as a result of social distancing and observance of CDC guidance. To date, 921 Tennesseans have recovered from the illness. While these new numbers and projections are encouraging, citizens must continue to take additional precautions and remain vigilant in the days and weeks ahead. As of Friday morning, Tennessee has reported 94 deaths and 505 citizens have been hospitalized.

These numbers are updated by the Department of Health at 2:00 p.m. daily. For information, please click here.



Small & Rural Hospital grants now available; state works to secure additional PPE supplies

Applications for $10 million in small and rural hospital readiness grants are now available to support facilities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Grant funding was announced this week in partnership with the Department of Economic & Community Development and the Department of Finance & Administration. All funds are capped at $500,000 per hospital and are a part of the fiscal year 2020 $150 million Covid-19 health and safety response appropriation.

These funds provide temporary resources for facilities facing a financial strain while elective procedures are suspended and federal funds are still being processed.

To access applications, click here.

Tennessee’s Unified Command continues efforts to secure Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for those on the frontlines battling this health emergency. More than 1,300 PPE shipments have already gone out to all 95 Tennessee counties to keep our health care workers safe during this emergency.

This week, Gov. Lee also signed Executive Order 25, which now postpones elective medical and dental procedures though April 30, 2020. The goal of the order is to preserve additional supplies of PPE, in the event they are needed as resources for the anticipated surge of Covid-19 patients.

You can read Executive Order 25 here.



City & County Government Grants application process unveiled

Before our General Assembly recessed until June 1, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed a $39.8 billion budget that included $200 million in city and county government grants. These one-time grants are based on population and will be distributed to every Tennessee county and municipality.

The grants may be used for road projects, IT upgrades, capital maintenance, utility system upgrades, public safety projects, Covid-19 response, as well as recovery relief for communities impacted by the March 3 tornado outbreak.

No county will receive less than $500,000 and no municipality will receive less than $30,000. Additional funding opportunities for Tennessee’s 15 distressed counties is also available through these grants.

The application process will go live April 30, 2020, and funding will be available after July 1.

Additional information can be found here.



Lee Administration, Department of Labor provide unemployment update

 The Lee administration and the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development this week provided several updates to help address the record number of unemployment claims filed in recent weeks.

Currently, our department is reprogramming the website to address the increase in unemployment claims, and to support additional resources available through the federal CARES Act, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and the new $600 weekly federal benefit. The Department of Labor has also added 200 more employees to assist with the substantial increase in claims. Self-employed or unemployed workers who have already submitted a claim do not need to reapply. All Tennesseans receiving unemployment or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will also automatically receive the weekly $600 federal benefit, in addition to their unemployment benefit.

Certain provisions of the CARE Act are expected to be implemented as early as next week. This will create additional funding and flexibility to support all those who have unexpectedly lost their jobs as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last week, the U.S. Small Business Administration launched the $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to incentivize small businesses to keep employees on staff. These loans will be completely forgiven if a business utilizing them keeps all of its employees on payroll for eight weeks and funds are used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities.

For more information about the PPP, contact your local financial institution or click here.



Broadband Accessibility Grant funding announced for 21 Tennessee counties

Recently, the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development announced a new round of Broadband Accessibility Grants totaling nearly $20 million for 21 Tennessee counties.

The funds will provide access to reliable broadband services for 31,000 Tennesseans currently unserved in 12,700 households and businesses. All recipients demonstrated a tremendous need for grant funding so they could implement and sustain projects with strong support from the community.

Grantees include:


*   Ben Lomand Connect: $2,000,000 serving parts of Cumberland County

*   BTC Fiber:  $1,500,000 serving parts of Bledsoe County

*   Charter Communications (Spectrum):  $140,433 serving parts of Henderson County

*   Comcast:  $568,509.64 serving parts of Cheatham and Dickson Counties

*   Fayetteville Public Utilities: $1,750,000 serving parts of Lincoln County

*   Forked Deer Electric Cooperative: $719,921 serving parts of Haywood & Lauderdale Counties

*   Gibson Electric Membership Corporation: $703,518 serving parts of Obion County

* HolstonConnect, LLC: $361,211 serving the Mooresburg community in Hamblen and Hawkins Counties

*   Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative: $593,166 serving parts of south Perry County

*   PVECFiber and Scott County Telephone Cooperative: $1,908,811.24 serving part of Union County

*   SVEConnect: $1,654,882 serving the Battle Creek and South Pittsburg Mountain communities in Marion County

*   Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Cooperative: $1,768,686 serving parts near the Brownsville community in Haywood County

*   TEC: $826,677.45 serving parts of the Buena Vista and McLemoresville communities in Carroll County

*   Tri-County Fiber Communications, LLC: $501,811 serving parts of Trousdale County

*   Twin Lakes Telephone Cooperative: $1,406,000 serving parts of Fentress and Overton Counties

*   United Communications: $1,331,504.80 serving the Eagleville community in rural Rutherford and Williamson Counties

*   West Kentucky and Tennessee Telecommunications Cooperative: $2,000,000 serving parts of Weakley County


Infrastructure is expected to be built out, and customers should be able to sign up for service within two years of providers receiving funding.

Since 2018, the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development has awarded more than $44 million in broadband grant funding.


 And Finally…….

The Department of Education is preparing to utilize funding from the CARES Act to increase learning opportunities and address ongoing needs of Tennessee students in the days and weeks ahead. The one-time funding from the federal stimulus package will be used to support meal preparation and distribution, and extend virtual learning opportunities by providing infrastructure, such as internet and hardware accessibility. Thursday, the department announced the Board of Education approved emergency rules lowering high school graduation requirements, freezing grades for students, and other changes because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Schools across Tennessee will remain closed through at least April 24.



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