The COVID-19 situation continues to develop in Oklahoma. As of publication on Friday, March 26, there are 322 positive tests reported in Oklahoma. We now have at least one positive case each in Grady, McClain and Stephens counties, which make up House District 51.
Governor Stitt announced earlier this week he would order all nonessential businesses in counties with confirmed COVID-19 cases to close through April 16. This began March 25 at midnight. This mandate includes counties that receive a positive case in the future.
These nonessential businesses are defined as salons, gyms, tattoo parlors, spas and massage parlors. However, pharmacies and grocery stores will remain open, as well as many other businesses considered essential which can be found at okcommerce.gov/covid19.
The Oklahoma Tax Commission announced that Oklahomans now have until July 15, 2020 to file and pay their 2019 state income tax return. This would normally be due on April 15, 2020. Federal tax returns are due on July 15, 2020 as well.
The State Board of Education and Superintendent Joy Hofmeister took action this week to allow public schools to begin distance learning for the remainder of the school year. Distance learning will begin April 6 and public schools will remain physically closed during this time.
Local districts will determine the distance learning plans for each district and communicate those details to parents and students. Distance learning may include instruction online, over the phone, on television or with mailed materials. Additionally, mandatory statewide testing has been waived for this year, but advanced placement tests will be offered online by the College Board.
The House is still operating during this time. We worked remotely this week and will continue working remotely until at least April 3. The House will remain open, but we won’t be working from inside the Capitol. In an effort to protect public health, Capitol access is still limited to only the elected officials, essential staff, press and state officials invited for critical meetings.
While working remotely, we have made good progress on the state budget. This has been prioritized for an agreement and vote earlier than usual this year due to the unique situation we find ourselves in. The Legislature is constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget by the last Friday in May.
Legislators have also engaged in several conference calls with the Governor throughout the week, where we have the opportunity to ask questions and bring constituent issues to his attention. We’ve also had numerous conference calls with our Congressional delegates as well and have received updates from them regarding the situation at the federal level.
This week, Congress passed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill, which now heads to President Trump’s desk to sign. One provision of this bill you may have already heard about is the $1,200 payments to adults with annual income of $75,000 or under or household income of $150,000 or under, plus another $500 per child. Most of the bill’s provisions will take immediate effect and most Americans would receive money in April via direct deposit.
This bill is expected to stimulate the economy and help employers that have been negatively affected by the virus, as well as Americans who may have lost their job or have had their normal weekly hours or wages cut back.
Normally, claimants are required to actively search for a job for one week prior to filing for unemployment benefits; however, the Governor has waived this requirement temporarily due to the number of people who have seen a reduction in their normal hours. Oklahomans in need of information about unemployment benefits can go to the OESC’s website, https://www.ok.gov/oesc/.
We have already seen record state and federal unemployment claims, and as this situation continues, these numbers will most likely continue to grow. Elected officials are working around the clock to slow community spread and aid Oklahomans who have been adversely affected by this virus.
Governor Stitt declared Thursday, March 26 a “Statewide Day of Prayer” and asked Oklahomans of all faiths to pray for those affected by the pandemic. In the Bible, 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked way, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
I pray that God will heal our land and I have hope that we will unite together through this. Once this pandemic ends, we will be a stronger and a more united state than we were before.