BOISE – Idaho Gov. Brad Little ordered a 1% budget holdback Friday for all state agencies not directly involved in Idaho’s novel coronavirus response.
He also took steps to ease requirements for filing unemployment claims, including removing the one-week waiting period.
The moves were the latest in a series of executive orders and proclamations Little has issued in recent days to address the pandemic, which has sickened more than 85,000 people nationwide.
The action came two days after he issued a statewide stay-at-home order, and on the same day a Nez Perce County resident became the fourth person in Idaho to die of COVID-19.
“It’s a sad reminder that coronavirus can be extremely harmful and deadly, and that we all need to take personal responsibility for stopping its spread,” Little said. “Most importantly, people need to stay at home as much as possible for the next three weeks.”
The 1% holdback is expected to save about $40 million in fiscal 2020, which ends June 30. It applies to public schools, as well as all other agencies not specifically involved in fighting the pandemic.
Little said he’s not sure how much revenue the state will lose during the current economic slowdown, but the $40 million holdback should see the state through this fiscal year, with minimal effect on state services.
“I want to assure Idahoans that, although the state budget will be impacted, we have a plan to meet our constitutional requirement for a balanced budget, without having to raise taxes,” he said.
The governor also transferred $39.3 million from a state tax relief fund into the disaster emergency account. That will allow the state to quickly purchase additional personal protective equipment, ventilators, test kits and other health care supplies.
Some of the money will likely be backfilled by federal funds, Little said, but this way agencies won’t be waiting for resources.
Congress approved a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill Friday, which includes $1.25 billion for Idaho.
Besides the budget moves, Little also signed a proclamation easing regulations on unemployment filings, including:
Waiving the one-week waiting period for all applicants who are otherwise eligible for unemployment benefits.
Removing “available-for-work” requirements for people who are isolated and unable to work at the request of their employer, a medical professional or their local health district.
Extending the deadline for appealing claims decisions by 14 days.
Not charging employers whose workers are laid off because of the coronavirus.
Little noted more than 12,000 new unemployment claims were filed in recent days by people laid off because of the virus. That was an increase of more than 1,200%.
Had it not been for that, he said, the state would have reported record employment and a 2.7 unemployment rate.
Department of Labor Director Jani Revier acknowledged that the massive increase in filings is straining the agency’s ability to keep up. People are being put on hold for extended periods, and may be disconnected if they time out.
“We’re all hands on deck right now,” she said. “We’re doing our best to handle the calls. We are hiring more people, but it will take time (to train them). So please be patient.”
As he has throughout this emergency, Little also added his assurances.
“I want to stress to my fellow Idahoans, we will get through this,” he said. “Everything we’re doing is for your benefit. We are being proactive to make sure we stay safe.”
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