Coronavirus: Child care providers struggle, legislators score emergency powers lawsuit win
Lawmakers score a major victory in their legal battle over emergency powers. Indiana announces a half-a-billion dollar grant program to stabilize the child care industry. And the state reports its fewest number of new COVID-19 cases in more than a month.
Indiana added 16,740 new cases in the last seven days – putting the state back to early August numbers.
Hospitalizations have also improved significantly: the state’s hospital census reached its delta peak at 2,676 on Sept. 10. The most recent census has dropped to 1,780.
But while cases and hospitalizations are nearing pre-delta surge numbers, deaths remain high. The state added nearly 276 deaths to its total in the last week.
Indiana Republican lawmakers scored a huge victory Thursday in their court battle with Gov. Eric Holcomb over emergency powers.
A Marion County judge ruled a new law, HB 1123, which allows the legislature to call itself into session during a public emergency, is constitutional.
Holcomb had argued that Article 4, Section 9 of the Indiana Constitution gives the governor the sole power to call a special session – which Holcomb took to mean anything other than a regular session of the legislature – and, thus, includes those emergency sessions in the new law.
But Judge Patrick Dietrick disagreed with Holcomb's argument. Article 4, Section 9 says, "The length and frequency of the sessions of the General Assembly shall be fixed by law."
Dietrick said that "special sessions clause" Holcomb cites is merely an exception to the legislature’s powers, not the rule.
Gov. Eric Holcomb said he’s evaluating all his options after a major loss in his legal battle with state lawmakers.
Holcomb said his initial reaction is one of calm.
“Let’s take a deep breath. Let’s review this," Holcomb said. "We’re going to be very methodical, very thoughtful.”
The governor can appeal the ruling directly to the Indiana Supreme Court. And Holcomb said wanting an answer to the fundamental, constitutional question from that ultimate authority will play into his decision.
Indiana is making more than half a billion dollars available to early learning providers across the state, through a grant program that aims to stabilize the industry as some providers struggle to keep their doors open.
The Build Learn Grow Stabilization Grants are designed to help providers navigate a wide range of challenges as the pandemic continues; the money can be used to help pay for things like the rent for their buildings, hiring bonuses or increased pay to recruit more staff, and software to streamline business operations.
In total, the state is using federal COVID-19 relief from the American Rescue Plan Act to make $540 million available through the program.
Millions of dollars in grant funding is being made available to help stabilize the early learning and child care industry, but as providers wait for cash to flow their way, worsening staff shortages are forcing some to abruptly close.
Early learning providers said they're struggling to retain staff because of things like low pay, long hours, and piles of paperwork needed to onboard new hires.
Mike Emkes is the owner representative for Jill's House Preschool in Bloomington. He said some families have had to suddenly find care elsewhere in recent days as the center temporarily closed.
"We were so, so short staffed this week we're in – we were supposed to be open Monday through Wednesday and we were not at all," he said.
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Federal COVID-19 relief has excited early learning advocates; the state's largest early learning nonprofit has said it provides an "unprecedented" opportunity for child care and preschool providers to invest in things like facility upgrades or develop new business models, and to help families afford care.
But some worry the new program won't be enough to keep them open, and question how much temporary funding will help the industry stabilize in the long-term.
Transportation problems for schools are spilling over to some after-school programs. The lack of bus drivers or other staff across Indiana is hindering efforts to reach students who need additional academic support.
Many education leaders consider out-of-school support a critical part of efforts to enhance student learning after years of pandemic-related disruptions, with grants and other COVID-19 relief funding being offered to those who partner with schools.
But there aren't enough drivers to meet the crushing demand for busing – including for some after-school programs that offer that supplemental academic support.
Chantel Fowler is the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Hancock County. She said the school district buses stopped dropping kids off at the club during the pandemic, and at least a dozen kids don't have another way to get there.
"They don't have any intention of starting that transportation back up – I think that the reasoning that we got this school year was they just didn't have the buses to do it," Fowler said.
Other sites are experiencing similar problems, and asking program staff to help cover the gaps.
Throughout the pandemic, experts have said the COVID-19 vaccines prevent serious illness and death, especially among people most vulnerable to COVID-19. Now, a new study estimates how many Indiana Medicare recipients avoided the hospital and premature death after getting vaccinated.
The study released by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services Tuesday estimates the COVID-19 vaccine prevented 1,300 deaths, 9,500 cases and 3,600 hospitalizations among the Medicare population in Indiana during the first five months of this year.
Medicare is government insurance primarily for people ages 65 years and older, but also for people with disabilities and specific medical conditions.
Ball State University has a wide gap in employee COVID-19 vaccinations by type of job, according to internal data.
The Muncie school has not mandated the vaccine. Those who voluntarily report being vaccinated are exempt from surveillance testing, most quarantine procedures, and physical distancing.
Ball State President Geoffrey Mearns said 86 percent of faculty are fully vaccinated and 88 percent of professional staff are as well. Among the service staff, that number is 43 percent.
“Once again, I would encourage these valued colleagues to consult with their physicians, to listen to the science, and to please get vaccinated,” Mearns said.
The percentage of fully vaccinated service staff mirrors Delaware County’s overall number. About 43 percent of residents are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Indiana Department of Health.
The county saw about 240 cases in the last week. That number reached more than 550 cases during the late-summer COVID-19 surge.