My staff and I prioritize responding timely and thoroughly to every letter and email we receive, assisting SD 21 residents with state-related issues, monitoring newspapers from throughout the district to remain informed about local issues, and developing legislation requested by my constituents.
COVID-19 has not only complicated this work, but also intensified its importance. Our volume of incoming correspondence, for example, has increased more than 300 percent, even as we continue to work remotely to practice social distancing. Every person will receive a reply, and we prioritize those whose need seems greatest, as with the hundreds of persons who have contacted us for assistance with unemployment benefits.
Embodying the philosophy I learned from the Ursuline nuns, "Serviam" ("I shall serve"), we will continue to work around-the-clock, seven days a week, to provide the best service possible to those whom we represent. It’s our pleasure to collaborate toward this goal with you, including with Live Oak County Judge Jim Huff and Sheriff Larry Busby, who join me in the photo below:
Reopening Texas, Phase II
Texas has begun the second phase of Governor Greg Abbott’s ongoing plan to safely and strategically open while minimizing the spread of COVID-19.
All sporting and camp activities are required to follow special safety standards, and minimum standard health protocols have been established for all newly-announced opened services and activities. Businesses located in office buildings must limit their occupancy to the greater of 10 employees or 25 percent of their workforce.
Public schools in Texas will have the option to provide in-person summer classes so long as they follow social distancing practices and health protocols laid out by the Texas Department of Health Services. Classes may begin as early as June 1.
The following services and activities may open under Phase II:
Monday, May 18
Child Care Centers
Massage and Personal-Care Centers
Friday, May 22
Rodeo and Equestrian Events
Bowling Alleys, Bingo Halls, Simulcast Racing, and Skating Rinks
Aquariums and Natural Caverns
Friday, May 29
Sunday, May 31
Day Youth Camps
Overnight Youth Camps
Certain professional sports without in-person spectators
Additionally, restaurants may expand their occupancy to 50 percent beginning Friday, May 22. Bars—including wine tasting rooms, craft breweries, and similar businesses—may open at 25 percent occupancy, but as for restaurants, these occupancy limits do not apply to outdoor areas that maintain safe distancing among parties.
In light of these changes, everyone is strongly encouraged to continue to stay home as much as possible, practice social distancing, and protect those who are most at risk.
Certain counties experiencing surges in COVID-19 cases will delay Phase II until May 29. These include El Paso, Randall, Potter, Moore, and Deaf Smith.
Taking Care of Elderly Texans
Texas nursing homes are being disinfected, thanks to the Texas National Guard. This important service should help protect the elderly.
Facilities Disinfection Teams have been mobilized to support Texans in nursing homes and to help limit the spread of COVID-19.
These teams consist of Guardsmen from Joint Task Force 176, and each team is equipped with unique supplies such as advanced personal protective equipment, ionized sprayers, and vital oxide. Team members underwent training by the Texas Military Department 6th Civil Support Team, which specializes in man-made and natural disaster assessment and rapid response in hazardous environments.
The toolkit on State Actions to Mitigate COVID-19 Prevalence in Nursing Homes is available here.
Complete the U. S. 2020 Census Today
Participating in the once-a-decade U.S. Census is critical to ensure not only that our communities and state are appropriately represented, but also that we receive an appropriate share of our tax dollars.
When everyone is counted in the 2020 Census, our communities get the appropriate level of funding for priorities such as health care, education, and emergency services.
Specifically, data from the 2020 Census are used for the following purposes:
Ensure public services and funding for schools, hospitals, and fire departments
Plan new homes and businesses and improve neighborhoods
Determine how many seats your state is allowed in the U.S. House of Representatives and how redistricting will impact districts at the local, state, and federal levels
Lone Star cards can now be used to order groceries online from Walmart or Amazon, effective immediately.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients can use their card PINs to arrange curbside pickup or delivery from these vendors. This is excellent news for persons with disabilities, parents with young children at home, or those who don't feel safe shopping at the store.
SNAP funds may be used only for groceries. Delivery or convenience fees, for example, must be paid for separately.
More information is available via the Health and Human Services Commission website, linked here.
Hand Sanitizer Distribution
Personalized pocket hand sanitizers are a small way to say “thank you” to supporters.
Never did we think when we ordered these before the quarantine that they would be such a timely and popular gift. Iris Guerrero, Bea Benavides, and David Barrera distributed them during a drive-by at my district office in Laredo.
We will be sending small batches to counties in Senate District 21.
Senator Zaffirini Hosts Zoom Meetings with Constituents
McMullen County Judge Jim Teal made a forceful and persuasive argument for funding during the pandemic. Zoom meeting attendees were Commissioner Max Quintanilla Jr.; and Dale Patterson, McMullen County Project Manager.
It was my pleasure to watch the 12 participants compete in the South Texas District Oratorical Contest online.
I met with Zoe Alvarez, a senior at Nixon High School who plans to attend UT-Austin; and Andrew Rao, a sophomore at United High School who also plans to attend UT-Austin via Zoom this week. Jo Ann and Salo Otero, Hilda Treviño, and Rosa Trujano also joined us. Congratulations to both, especially to Zoe, who placed second.
Keeping Vulnerable Texans Safe
$3 million for family and domestic violence prevention services will be administered by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC).
This federal funding is for immediate shelter, supportive services, and access to community-based programs offered by 78 HHSC local family violence centers.
More information regarding HHSC's Family Violence Program and local family violence centers is available here.
Free COVID-19 Mobile Testing Now Available
Schedules will be announced up to 48 hours in advance, and testing will be by appointment only for anyone older than 5 years. Appointments may be made via https://txcovidtest.org/ or 512/883-2400.
Texas DSHS Interactive Map of Drive-Thru COVID-19 Testing Sites
The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has received more than 2.3 million claims for Unemployment Insurance (UI) and has paid more than $4.6 billion in UI benefit payments to Texans impacted by COVID-19. Of that, $2.8 billion was paid in the extra $600 per week payments, and $194.2 million in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) is now live. This provides an additional 13 weeks of federally funded benefits for persons who have exhausted their regular UI benefits.
With this implementation, TWC has brought online all federally funded unemployment insurance benefits enacted under the CARES Act. Notices are being sent out to everyone TWC has identified as having exhausted their regular UI benefits, including instructions extending benefits activated for their claims.
TWC staff also is reviewing tax returns submitted by self-employed and independent contractors who receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. As a reminder, if the review of the tax returns determines that someone should receive higher weekly benefit payments, the weekly amount will be updated and retroactive payments scheduled. Minimum weekly benefit payments are $207, maximum $512. CARES funds an additional $600 each week.
Because unemployment is the number one issue discussed by callers to my Capitol and district offices, my staff underwent TWC training to enhance their responsiveness and effectiveness in helping constituents.
View the Unemployment Insurance Claimant Dashboard here.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is accepting registrations for optional end-of-year (EOY) assessments for spring, 2020, and offers optional tools for school personnel and parents to measure student progress and understand the statewide curriculum.
The TEA notes that “EOY assessments are optional and intended to support district, campus, and classroom-level analysis of student learning. TEA will not use data from these assessments for any accountability purposes, and no results will be published by district or campus. Data will only be used to research the statewide educational impact of the current crisis to better prepare for the next school year.”
More tools and information are available at TEA’s website.
Access to Justice Foundation Presents Musical Fundraiser
Access to Justice Advocates will want to tune-in to the "Justice Jam" featuring judges and lawyers displaying their musical skills. It's sponsored by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, of which my son, Carlos Zaffirini, Jr. is a member.
This will be live-streamed today, Wednesday, May 20, at noon. As a member of the Access to Justice Commission, I'm proud to be a supporter. Join us!
The COVID-19 test collection online map is available here.
The Texas Workforce Commission has information about unemployment insurance eligibility, programs, and job opportunities. Persons who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19 can sign-up to receive updates here.
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program provides monthly cash payments for food, housing and other necessities to families and persons caring for children 18-years-old and younger.
The Women, Infant, and Children’s (WIC) program temporarily has expanded approved foods for clients who cannot find items typically on the program’s list. For more information or to apply, visit the Central Texas WIC Facebook page or the Texas WIC website.
To learn about stimulus financial assistance or Economic Impact Payments visit IRS.gov. You can use the Get My Payment option to check the status of your payment, or use Non-filers: Enter Payment Info Here tool to request your payment if you are not required to file an income tax document.
Texas Child Abuse Hotline:
Or dial 1-800-252-5400
to reach an advocate.
National Domestic Abuse Hotline:
Our advocates are available 24/7 at
in more than 200 languages.
All calls are free and confidential.
Crisis Text Line:
Text HOME to 741741 when going through any kind of emotional crisis and a counselor will respond via text.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones,and best practices for professionals
George William Zaffirini Turns 10 Months!
George is a bundle of love and joy!
Ma Z and Pa Z cherish him dearly.
I will continue to send updates as we monitor and respond to this crisis. If you have additional helpful information not included here, please contact my staff or me via 512/463-0121, 956/722-2293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
My prayer continues to be that the Lord will bless, strengthen, and heal Texas families affected by COVID-19 and inspire all of us to excel in helping each other remain healthy and safe.