PHOENIX — On Wednesday, Governor Doug Ducey announced $60 million to support staffing at health care facilities that deploy proven techniques to decrease COVID-19 related hospitalizations, including administering monoclonal antibody treatments and offering vaccination at discharge.
“Arizona’s health care professionals and all frontline workers are heroes, without a doubt,” said Governor Ducey. “We are working to make sure they have the resources they need. This funding opportunity will decrease stress on existing hospital staff, increase hiring opportunities and decrease the risk of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Arizona. I’m grateful to all the nurses, doctors, first responders, frontline workers and everyone supporting and protecting our fellow Arizonans during this health emergency.”
COVID-19 hospitalizations represent a significantly lower proportion of hospital patients than in previous waves due largely to the deployment of vaccinations among the most vulnerable populations. Despite this, hospitals are experiencing higher numbers of patients than normal. This has led to staffing challenges as doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and other health care providers are in high demand across the country and hiring costs for these needed professionals has increased dramatically. This funding will help ensure that Arizona hospitals can obtain temporary staff to assist and alleviate stress on existing staff.
“This latest COVID-19 surge has been challenging for health care workers,” said Linda Hunt, President and CEO of Dignity Health’s Southwest Division. “They are exhausted yet continue to step-up in the most heroic ways. The high volume of patients compounded by the shortage of doctors and nurses across the country is creating intense competition for a limited pool of nurses nationwide. I am grateful for Governor Ducey’s actions today to bring more health care workers to Arizona as we navigate through this latest surge. This effort will help provide the relief desperately needed for our most valued resource — our staff. The Governor recognizes and supports the needs of our health care workforce. We will continue to work together to find long-term solutions that sufficiently invests in a sustainable health care workforce for Arizona.”
Monoclonal antibodies are designed to block the virus’ attachment and entry into human cells, and the treatment can be used for mild to moderate COVID-19 patients. When administered early enough, this treatment can dramatically decrease the patient’s risk of developing severe COVID symptoms. Expanding the use of monoclonal antibody treatment will help decrease the rate of hospitalizations and help alleviate pressure on hospitals and staff.
Tucson Medical Center in January became the second treatment center nationwide solely focused on administering monoclonal antibodies to help patients avoid severe illness and hospitalization. The center’s temporary treatment program was successful, and according to the Arizona Republic in February:
“Since it opened earlier this month, the TMC center has infused 600 patients. None has had allergic reactions to the medication and anecdotally, about 1% have been admitted to the hospital, though actual outcome data is not yet available, said Mimi Coomler, the hospital’s chief operating officer.”
This funding will be administered by the Arizona Department of Health Services.
After months advocating for school mask mandates, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman neglected to mask up for an indoors baby shower this past weekend. Hoffman has been a staunch advocate for universal masking.
Just one month ago, Hoffman issued a formal statement decrying Governor Doug Ducey’s ban on K-12 mask mandates. Hoffman sided with CDC guidance, which asks that all individuals wear masks – even those who’ve been fully vaccinated.
“We know masks work and, with rising cases, they’re a vital part of our effort to reduce everyone’s COVID-19 risks,” wrote Hoffman. “I encourage teachers, administrators, and families to listen to the CDC and take individual action to keep themselves and each other safe by wearing a mask during in-person school. Students, teachers, and parents are ready to get back to in-person learning, but it takes all of us.”
All of us, that is, except Hoffman. It appears that Hoffman’s personal life doesn’t align with the version she offers the public eye – even Hoffman’s Twitter and Facebook profiles have her wearing a mask.
The same weekend of Hoffman’s maskless party, another prominent politician and masking advocate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was seen on video maskless at a fundraiser luncheon. Like Hoffman’s experience at the “Bee Tea” baby shower, neither Pelosi or any of the other guests caught on camera wore masks or were socially distant.
Although Arizona is not yet back to pre-pandemic workforce levels, a recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows the state is headed in the right direction, with more than 21,000 jobs added in July, boosting Arizona to fourth place in percentage of jobs recovered post-COVID19.
That means Arizona has restored all but around 20,000 of the 331,500 jobs lost in the pandemic’s aftermath, giving the state at a recovery rate of 93.7 percent. Only three states -Utah, Idaho, and Montana- have a better percentage of recovery than Arizona as of July.
Yet despite the state’s positive trajectory, many small business owners, economists, and job placement officials remain worried about whether Prop 208’s 3.5 percent income tax surcharge will go into effect or not, and whether legislation aimed at blunting any impact will withstand its own legal challenge.
The surcharge was narrowly approved by voters last November to hit Arizonans earning more than $250,000 (single filing) or $500,000 (joint filing) in an attempt to increase K-12 funding. The tax was designed to be on top of the then-existing income tax of 4.5 percent, but last week the Arizona Supreme Court ordered a Maricopa County judge to determine whether Prop 208 tax revenues will exceed the Education Expenditure Limit set in the Arizona Constitution.
If the answer is yes, then the judge must declare Prop. 208 unconstitutional and enjoin state officials from putting the tax surcharge into operation, the justices ordered.
Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation in June to change Arizona’s individual income tax structure over the next three years and to blunt the surcharge effect. The legislation also provides small businessowners an alternative to the surcharge. But until the Prop 208 legal issue is resolved, there are worries that Arizona’s recovery will slow due to small business owners reducing spending -such as employee compensation and benefits- to cover any additional tax burden.
Others may choose to abstain from hiring or even decide to cut personnel. And that is a point of concern for those trying to get jobs for all Arizonans who want one.
The same Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows Arizona’s rate of unemployment was 6.6 percent in July, ranking 40th in the nation. That ties with Alaska, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania, while Utah, Idaho, and Montana had unemployment rates at 2.6, 3.0, and 3.6 respectively, among the Top 10 lowest percentages for July.
Arizona’s current unemployment rate, however, is a vast improvement from April 2020, when the state had 14.2 percent of work-eligible adults out of jobs, a historical high. In addition, next month’s end of two Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) unemployment benefit programs is expected to spur many out-of-work Arizonans back into the workforce.
Those programs -Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation- are scheduled to expire for the workweek ending Sept. 4. Ducey and DES have created a Back to Work program with several features to help Arizonans transition back to work, including childcare vouchers, educational incentives, and even hiring bonuses for eligible individuals.
Governor Doug Ducey’s program offering up to $7,000 in grants for low-income K-12 parents wanting to relocate their students due to their current school’s COVID-19 protocols began Friday. Eligible families have a total household income at or below 350 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, and show proof that their current school has COVID constraints, including: mask mandates, quarantines, vaccine mandates, or discrimination based on vaccination status. The grant funds may be used for a variety of education-related expenses beyond tuition like transportation, online tutoring, and even child care.
Ducey announced the $7,000 booster on Tuesday. The governor’s office cited Yale University research that found COVID-based school closures disproportionately harm low-income students. More affluent students reportedly didn’t exhibit any significant impairments.
“We are committed to keeping all Arizona kids on track, closing the achievement gap and equipping underserved students and families with the tools they need to thrive,” said Ducey. “Our COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit will empower parents to exercise their choice when it comes to their child’s education and COVID-19 mitigation strategies. It will also give families in need the opportunity to access educational resources like tutoring, child care, transportation and other needs. We know that historically disadvantaged communities bear the brunt of excessive and overbearing measures, and we want to ensure these students are protected.”
Parents interested in learning more about these grants can review or apply for the program here. Applicants are accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis.
These grants were just one of three plans increasing education funding that the governor introduced Tuesday.
Another plan that Ducey announced was $163 million in grant funding for district and charter schools that remain open all year. Ducey explained that the goal of this funding incentive is to increase funding to $1,800 per student.
The third plan Ducey issued offers up nearly $65 million to a variety of learning programs across all education levels: K-12 literacy, adult education, and teacher professional development. Like the plan offering up to $7,000 per student for low-income families, $3.5 million of these funds will help launch 50 new micro-schools: an alternative learning model to public and private schools for low-income families.
AZ Free News inquired with State Representative Michelle Udall (R-Mesa), the House Education Committee Chair, about this latest in education funds for parents. Udall didn’t respond by press time.
Starting this Friday, low-income families with K-12 students will be able to apply online for up to $7,000 in immediate relief to support educational opportunities which will close the achievement gap and better equip underserved students.
Gov. Doug Ducey announced Tuesday an initial $10 million investment for Arizona’s COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit program. The funding – on a first come, first serve basis – will provide choice for families facing financial and educational barriers due to unnecessary closures and school mandates which do not comply with state law.
“Our COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit will empower parents to exercise their choice when it comes to their child’s education and COVID-19 mitigation strategies,” Ducey said. “It will also give families in need the opportunity to access educational resources like tutoring, child care, transportation and other needs.”
According to the governor’s office, Ducey has been working for weeks to create an additional program to provide more education options for families.
Eligible families can have a total household income up to 350 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. In addition, applicants must demonstrate the student’s current school is isolating, quarantining, or subjecting children to physical in-school COVID-19 constraints such as mask mandates or preferential treatment of vaccinated students.
“We know that historically disadvantaged communities bear the brunt of excessive and overbearing measures, and we want to ensure these students are protected,” Ducey said.
The COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit program has the full support of Senate President Karen Fann and House Speaker Rusty Bowers.
“Educators, families and state leaders are working hard to get students back on track, and the Educational Recovery Benefit program will make sure kids have every opportunity to grow and thrive,” said Fann.
Bowers noted the desire to keep children “safe, healthy, and achieving” during the pandemic, adding that with the new program, “we can do it all at the same time.”