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Working from home.
Working from home.

While the Senate is closed until Monday, April 6, we are all still working from home. There have been a handful of positive COVID-19 cases in the Capitol so to protect everyone’s health, we are teleworking. Depending on what happens this coming week, we may continue working from home, so please be watching our website (www.oksenate. gov), our Facebook - Oklahoma State Senate or Instagram @ OKSENATEINFO for the latest updates. My assistant, Suzanne, and I are checking emails and phone messages regularly so if you need anything, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office. We are daily being informed with a great deal of information about local, county, state and federal assistance, programs, rules and health information.

Because there is so much information, the state has created a website with all the resources and information you may need in one location. You can find it at COVIDresources. ok.gov or you can call the state hotline at 211. On Friday, President Trump signed the $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, which is the largest emergency aid package in U.S. history. The package will provide much-needed relief to state economies that have been devastated by the health crisis. It will provide direct payments to citizens, increase unemployment benefits, give loans to struggling companies, and provide immediate assistance to hospitals and health care providers as well as small businesses. If you’re unemployed, you will get an additional $600 per week on top of the normal unemployment rate under this stimulus package. Also, self-employed individuals including independent contractors and freelancers qualify for unemployment under this package. You will find the link to apply at the above-mentioned state website.

Even though we’re not at the state capitol, session must continue in order for us to finish the people’s business. Our top priority is passing a balanced budget, as we are constitutionally mandated to do so. Falling energy prices are playing havoc with state revenues. In addition, the health crisis is impacting our state’s economy as well. Fortunately, in Oklahoma, we do have over $1 billion in our Rainy Day Fund and Revenue Stabilization Fund to help us through this difficult time.

Currently, we are researching the federal stimulus package to see how it will affect our state financially. We want to make sure that we don’t duplicate any funding or leave any gaps in funding. We’ve been meeting online and having conference calls daily with local, county, state and federal officials to learn what their needs are and what problems they’re facing as well as constituents. The Senate Pro Tem has also asked us to go through our bills and let our leadership team know which bills absolutely must be heard this session. All together there are around 800 bills still working their way through the process but we’re not going to have the time to consider all this session. We must focus on the most critical legislation and finishing the budget. I’ll have more updates as we proceed with budget negotiations and consideration of policy measures.

Speaking of revenue, one way you can help the state tremendously is by filling out your 2020 Census questionnaire. Every Oklahoman counted will help the state gain an average of $17,000 in federal funding over the next 10 years. Officials believe the state population has grown to over four million people. If this is the case and every household fills out their Census form, the state could get around $68 billion of additional federal funding for vital government services like health care, education, public safety and other social services. In closing, I want to thank all our healthcare workers, law enforcement officers, first responders and other medical professionals who are working to help patients and keep our communities safe. We are also so grateful to all the grocery stores, restaurants, organizations, businesses and various agencies that are working so hard to keep our communities up and running. Your courage, dedication and selflessness to help others in this time of need is greatly appreciated. Our prayers are with you all as we continue to fight this invisible enemy.