Friday's biggest developments:
- Texas reports 22,806 cases and 593 deaths
- State releases online map to help Texans find nearby testing sites
- Stores can reopen to offer curbside pickup
- Galveston will reopen public beaches for workouts
Texas polls on Donald Trump, Greg Abbott, Congress and coronavirus show mix grades
56% of Texas voters approve of the job Abbott is doing while only 32% disapprove. The governor gets better grades than President Donald Trump (48% approve, and 45% disapprove) and Congress (23% approve and 56% disapprove).
Approval ratings for U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz were largely unchanged from previous polling. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — who made national news when he suggested that saving the economy was more important than responding to the coronavirus — has seen an uptick of disapproval in two groups: registered voters over 65 and independents.
Cruz wants Federal Reserve to create lending program for oil companies
[7:41 p.m.] Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is asking the Federal Reserve for a government lending program that will provide emergency aid to small and mid-sized U.S. oil companies, which are struggling after oil prices plunged earlier this week.
In a letter addressed to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, Cruz noted the need for “urgent action,” in the form of increased access to capital, to bail out small-and medium-sized businesses tied to the oil and gas industry.
On Monday, an unprecedented drop in crude oil prices left many Texas oil companies reeling. One barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude cost in the $60 range at the start of the year. It dropped into the negatives for the first time in history on Monday. Texas is the nation’s top oil-producing state, leading to many fears that existing economic woes from the shutdown will worsen. Already, unemployment claims in the state are at record highs.
The federal stimulus bill, known as the CARES Act, previously directed the Federal Reserve to provide relief to small and mid-sized businesses. But Cruz said the existing programs are not “sufficiently structured” to support oil companies, as they place restrictions on the size of possible loans depending on the size of a business’s pre-existing debt.
“To survive, the oil and gas industry needs to be able to access short-term liquidity,” Cruz said in the letter. “Allowing the current government-created crises to dry up all liquidity will cripple our country’s domestic exploration and oil refining capabilities.”
According to Bloomberg News, Mnuchin had previously said he is considering a lending facility for oil companies, though they would still have to meet certain requirements. — Raga Justin
State launches online map of testing sites
The map offers detailed information on testing centers, including payment information, hours of operation and prescreening measures. It also specifies whether a site is public or private, as well as if it is a mobile, walk-in or drive-thru center.
The tool is part of the state’s “commitment to expanding COVID-19 testing throughout Texas," Abbott said in the release. So far, the map displays over 340 locations around the state, with more additions promised as the state identifies new sites. It is managed by the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
Texans can fill out this online form to suggest additional locations or information about existing sites. — Raga Justin
Texas Workforce Commission pays $20 million in benefits to self-employed Texans, freelancers
[2:37 p.m.] The Texas Workforce Commission paid out over $20 million in benefits Thursday to those who are eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. The federal program allows people who are self-employed, freelancers or seeking part-time employment to be eligible for benefits.
This week, the commission converted 145,000 unemployment claims to the PUA program, comprising about 40% of the more than 365,000 new claims this week, commission spokesman Cisco Gamez said at a media briefing Friday.
Workers eligible for PUA must submit their 2019 tax forms to the commission by Dec. 26. Those who qualify will receive the minimum state benefits of $207 a week, plus an additional $600 a week from the federal government.
Once the tax forms are received, the Texas Workforce Commission verifies past wages, and workers might become eligible for more weekly benefits, which can be backdated, Gamez said. — Clare Proctor
Six people in ICE detention sue government, seek release over coronavirus concerns
[2:27 p.m.] Immigration attorneys have filed another lawsuit against the Trump administration saying immigrants in detention should immediately be released due to their ailing health and age.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in El Paso and urges the immediate release of six female detainees who “are at particularly high risk of serious illness, long-term injury, and death from COVID-19” according to a statement from Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso.
“The complaint asserts that EPPC [El Paso Processing Center] officials cannot make detention safe for the plaintiffs because social distancing is impossible for women detained in EPPC, who are housed together in dormitories, sleeping in bunk beds, and sharing bathrooms, showers, telephones and tablets to contact family,” the statement reads.
This is the latest in a series of similar legal actions filed across the country seeking the release of detainees. There are at least 45 detainees who have tested positive for the new coronavirus, according to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement webpage tracking confirmed cases.
Last Friday, a federal district judge ordered a detainee released from the Montgomery Processing Center in Conroe. The release of the 28-year-old woman came as a result of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. Two other detainees who were part of the lawsuit were released on bond earlier. — Julián Aguilar
SBA discriminated against Hidalgo EMS, judge rules
[2:21 p.m.] The U.S. Small Business Administration discriminated against Hidalgo County Emergency Medical Services in its application for loans to pay employees during the novel coronavirus crisis, a federal bankruptcy judge ruled.
KRGV reported that the Hidalgo County EMS, a privately owned company serving several counties in the Rio Grande Valley, was denied a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program after it said in the application that it had filed bankruptcy.
Richard A. Kincheloe, an assistant U.S. attorney representing the SBA, said that the businesses in a bankruptcy process are not eligible because the SBA could lose control of the funds during the proceeding.
Chief U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge David R. Jones of the Southern District of Texas directed the SBA to reconsider the Hidalgo County EMS loan application, according to KRGV-TV. The judge also ruled that his order doesn’t apply to other cases of bankruptcy or to the loan program as a whole. — Juan Pablo Garnham
Texas reports 22,806 cases and 593 deaths
[12:30 p.m.] Texas reported 862 more cases of the new coronavirus Friday, an increase of about 4% over the previous day, bringing the total number of known cases to 22,806. Two new counties reported their first cases Friday — Nolan and Ochiltree. Over three quarters of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.
Harris County has reported the most cases, 5,330, followed by Dallas County, which has reported 2,763 cases. See maps of the latest case numbers for each county and case rates per 1,000 residents.
The state has reported 32 additional deaths, bringing the statewide total to 593 — an increase of about 6% from Thursday. Harris County reported two additional deaths, bringing its total to 82 deaths, more than any other county. As of Friday, 1,674 patients are known to be hospitalized in Texas. That’s a decrease of 175 patients from Thursday. At least 242,547 tests have been conducted. — Darla Cameron
Gov. Greg Abbott announces funds for rent assistance
[11:27 a.m.] The governor's office announced Friday that $11.3 million in rental assistance will be easier to access for Texans in need during the COVID-19 crisis. Earlier in April, Gov. Greg Abbott asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to waive some requirements on these funds to open them up to parts of the state that are not typically eligible.
"Thanks to these waivers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the State of Texas will be able to provide much-needed financial relief to Texans struggling with housing due to challenges posed by COVID-19," Abbott said in a press release.
Rent assistance providers — which include nonprofits, housing authorities and local governments — will be able to apply for these funds in the upcoming weeks. The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs recommended that renters in need visit the Help for Texans website to find providers in their areas.
Local governments are also mobilizing to provide housing assistance. This month, San Antonio approved a $25 million program, and Dallas passed a $13.7 million plan to help renters. Advocates are asking for stronger measures from the state. Christina Rosales, deputy director for the advocacy organization Texas Housers, said that “this is a start, but is hardly a drop in the bucket” and called on Abbott to “tap the state rainy day fund” to help renters. — Juan Pablo Garnham
Galveston will reopen public beaches for workouts
[9:23 a.m.] The Galveston City Council voted Thursday to reopen its beaches for specific uses, the Houston Chronicle reports. Exercise, surfing, swimming and fishing will be allowed from 6 to 9 a.m. beginning Monday. Outside of those hours, the use of the beach is still prohibited. Violators face a $500 fine. Vehicle traffic, picnics and setting up chairs or tents is banned.
The impact on Texas’ economy
Officials are still asking visitors to maintain social distancing while on the beaches. Many cities in the area are still under stay-at-home orders and are prohibiting nonessential travel. — Juan Pablo Garnham
Stores can start offering curbside pickup
[5 a.m.] Texas retailers that have been closed for weeks during the coronavirus pandemic can begin selling their goods curbside today. That's one of Gov. Greg Abbott's initial steps to reopen the Texas economy, which has been battered by stay-at-home orders, the closings of nonessential businesses and plummeting oil prices.
The San Antonio Express-News reports that some business owners are hopeful that sales from pickup orders will help their bottom lines, while others think many customers will still practice social distancing and may be trying to save money through the economic downturn.
Taco Cabana parent company reevaluating its SBA loan
[5 a.m.] Texas-based restaurant chain Taco Cabana's parent company is reevaluating whether it's eligible for $15 million worth of federal aid it received as part of Congress' coronavirus economic relief package, The Dallas Morning News reports.
The Small Business Administration issued new guidance on loans that were part of the relief package, which spurred Fiesta Restaurant Group to review its eligibility, the paper reported.
The Texas Tribune reported Thursday that some small companies fell through the cracks and missed out on Congress' first round of forgivable business loans as larger businesses and those that had established relationships with banks successfully sought aid, which dried up in weeks. Congress agreed Thursday to spend more than $300 billion to continue certain aid programs.
Disclosure: The Texas Tribune, as a nonprofit local newsroom and a small business, applied for and received a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program in the amount of $800,000.