The impacts of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic have been felt across the globe, including the Cowboy State. As of late June, over 1,200 Wyomingites had been diagnosed with or assumed to have COVID-19 with 20 of those cases resulting in death. Another 900 had recovered.
In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, AARP is providing information, advocacy and resources to help older people and those caring for them protect themselves from the virus, prevent it from spreading to others and cope with the health problems and financial disruptions caused by the virus.
“With state offices closed, the challenge for AARP Wyoming is to maintain our contact with members in Wyoming and make sure we are advocating on their behalf in the most effective way possible,” said AARP State Director Sam Shumway.
AARP Wyoming’s offices have been closed for the past three months, and will remain so until at least September 8. That is a directive from AARP’s national office in Washington, DC, to close all state and national offices in the name of social distancing through the start of Sept.
Meanwhile, AARP has also directed state offices to postpone or cancel all in-person events through the end of 2020. That means a summer with no shredfests, Movies for Grown-ups, Driver’s Safety courses, or other AARP Wyoming events. However, online Driver’s Safety courses are still available by going to www.aarpdriversafety.org. You may offer the promo code DRIVINGSKILLS for a discount.
AARP’s Tax-Aide program is offering modified in-person services at a limited number of sites by appointment only and with protective measures in-place. The Torrington Senior Friendship Center and the Platte County Public Library are offering in-person Tax Aide services effective June 8 through July 15. To make an appointment in Torrington, contact Vernon Ellis at (307) 338-0163 or email@example.com. For the Wheatland service, contact Margaret Stevenson at (307) 322-4700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tax-Aide is providing online methods for the preparation of taxes—at no cost. You can request the help of a volunteer coach in preparing your tax returns.
“AARP has been working to promote the health and well-being of older Americans for more than sixty years, “ said AARP Wyoming Associate State Director of Outreach, Tanya Johnson. “In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, AARP is providing information, advocacy and resources to help older people and those caring for them protect themselves from the virus, prevent it from spreading to others and cope with the health problems and financial disruptions caused by the virus.”
The order to close state offices has left AARP Wyoming’s five-person staff to work from home and discover new ways to offer a positive impact to the state’s age 50-and-over despite not being able to see most of them face-to-face.
Since the start of the pandemic, AARP Wyoming has hosted a number of Teletown Halls, in which AARP dialed out to over 10,000 members in the state to connect them directly with policymakers and healthcare professionals. Starting in March, AARP Wyoming connected its members with Senator John Barrasso, MD; Governor Mark Gordon; State Epidemiologist Alexia Harrist; Kris Schamber, MD; Sierra Gross, MD; First Lady of Wyoming, Jeannie Gordon; and Lisa Osvold of the Wyoming Department of Health. The guests covered everything from where to find food to basic medical questions.
AARP’s national office has also continued to offer weekly national TeleTown Halls with government and medical experts every Thursday during the COVID pandemic at 11 a.m. Mountain Time. For more information, or to listen to previous teletown halls, visit: https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2020/tele-town-hall-coronavirus.html.
To offer other requests or ideas for teletown halls in the future, contact Tom Lacock at email@example.com.
National and State Advocacy
The advance of the COVID-19 virus had especially high impacts on those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. As of late June, more than 50,000 residents of nursing homes, assisted living, and other long-term facilities are dead from COVID-19. That accounts for over 40 percent of all COVID-related deaths in the US. Wyoming has seen outbreaks at nursing homes in Lander, as well as Worland during the pandemic.
AARP believes nobody should be going through what nursing home residents and their families are experiencing today because of negligence. AARP believes both State lawmakers and Congress must do more. AARP and families of nursing home residents urge Congress to take immediate action to stop this crisis and stem the loss of life by making sure all nursing homes and long-term care facilities can provide: regular testing and PPE for residents and staff; daily reporting of COVID-19 cases and deaths; virtual visitation for families. AARP also urges lawmakers not to let nursing homes off the hook for abuse, neglect, and even death.
AARP Wyoming has spent its time lobbying policymakers on behalf of our members. In March, AARP Wyoming sent a letter to the Wyoming Department of Health and Governor Mark Gordon encouraging them to find ways to help facilitate virtual visitation (using an ipad or phone to talk to loved ones) inside nursing homes; ensuring proper staffing inside nursing homes; and reporting when an outbreak happens inside a nursing home. The state has taken great strides to address all of these issues.
AARP Wyoming also reached out to the Secretary of State in Feb. to encourage more opportunities for Wyoming citizens to vote by mail in the 2020 election. The Secretary of State’s office recently told a Legislative subcommittee it has sent a mailer to all registered voters in the state to let them know of their options for voting in 2020, as well as a tear-off request for a mail-in ballot.
Nationally, AARP’s efforts have fought for and secured financial relief for older Americans by working to get up to $1,200 in direct payments to individuals, lobbying for cost-free testing and vaccines, strengthening paid sick leave and unemployment insurance for those who cannot work due to COVID-19, and protecting pension accounts.
Wyoming’s Legislative Response
Thanks to the CARES Act, the State of Wyoming has received $1.25 billion to spend to off-set COVID-related impacts to the economy. That funding comes with significant strings for how it is to be used, including a requirement that it be used before the end of the year.
The combination of COVID-19 and an oil price war between the Saudi’s and Russans, resulted in huge losses to the state’s general fund, which is made up primarily of mineral tax collections. In March, Wyoming’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Group (CREG) reported to the Legislature it should expect between $1-1.5 billion less than it had expected to have when it left the State Capitol just one month prior.
To put that in perspective, the CREG told lawmakers, the state could lay-off all state employees and still go broke by next July. The state’s Revenue Committee presented a number of tax increase ideas and the timing each would take to institute. For example, The Legislative Service Office told the Revenue Committee it would take the state months to collect changes in sales tax, the sales tax exemption on food, or fuel taxes. Meanwhile, it might take a year or two to make changes to property taxes, or income taxes, both individual or corporate.
That combination of a lack of funding and CARES Act money thrust the State Legislature into a two-day special session to authorize the Governor’s Office to distribute some of the $1.25 billion dollars in CARES Act funding. Of that, more than $300 million was made available for locally owned and operated businesses and nonprofits in Wyoming. Another $175 million was made available for local governments who could prove negative financial impacts due to COVID; millions also went to the state’s unemployment insurance, as well as eviction avoidance for renters in the state. The state’s hospitals also received some cash to off-set impacts of COVID.
Meanwhile, the Legislative committees have been searching for ways to spend that money by the end of the year, while looking for revenue going forward. The Legislature is spending CARES Act money on rapid deployment of broadband projects to help increase the state’s internet speeds and affordability. That will have an impact on social isolation as well as telehealth opportunities to visit with a doctor from the home. Before the pandemic, 354 Wyoming doctors, counselors and other healthcare providers were offering telehealth services. In the month of May, that number jumped to 1,494, who took part in just short of 28,000 telehealth visits.
In addition to telehealth, the Legislature is also working to make mental health and substance abuse counseling available over the phone to all Wyomingites, civil immunity for businesses whose customers or workers may contract COVID-19 during work, and the effort to set a new budget for the upcoming biennium in Wyoming and more.
Finding A Friendly Voice
AARP also launched an online resource called AARP Community Connections. The website - aarpcommunityconnections.org - allows for the formation of small mutual aid groups or informal groups of volunteers that band together to find effective ways to support those people most in need who live in their local community. Mutual aid can include picking up groceries, providing financial assistance, or lending emotional support to your neighbors. The website also allows for those interested to sign up to receive a weekly phone call from a volunteer around the country. Finding local resources for those struggling with food security is also available on the community connections site.
“If you’re feeling alone or know someone who is, you can use the AARP Friendly Voice program to ask for a phone call from an AARP volunteer Monday to Friday 9 am to 5 pm.,” says Shumway.
This story is provided by AARP Wyoming. Visit the AARP Wyoming page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.
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