Above: The scene near Town Hall on Sunday, Sept. 13, during EG’s ‘Take It Outside’ Main Street initiative, when the street was closed to traffic between 3 and 9 p.m.
Gov. Gina Raimondo Wednesday announced extra unemployment benefits for another three weeks; $1 million in grant money for businesses looking to expand their use of the outdoors; and that so far 19 public school students and staff had tested positive for COVID-19, but the cases were singular in nature so no schools were forced to close.
Raimondo touted the state’s economy bounce-back rate, noting the rating agency Moody’s puts Rhode Island at second (behind Maine) for how well its economy looks compared with pre-pandemic times. According to Moody’s, Rhode Island’s economy is 90 percent back.
She acknowledged times remain tough for many businesses. To that end, she said, “We’re making a $1 million investment for businesses to set up outside.” Businesses can apply for money to buy heat lamps, furniture, and other things to make operating outdoors workable.
“It is much safer outdoors than indoors and we want to continue to help businesses operate outside,” she said.
Obviously heat lamps won’t be enough in January, but Raimondo said she was hoping to give businesses another two months and said in terms of increasing dine-in capacity, she would wait until then.
Raimondo also announced a loosening of restrictions for the RestoreRI grant program, which provides up to $15,000 to small businesses who can show, now, 30 percent business loss due to the pandemic (it had been 50 percent). Find out more about the program HERE.
The state has secured another three weeks of expanded federal funding for those who are unemployed – $300 extra a week for three more weeks, retroactive for those who qualified for unemployment the weeks of Aug. 22, Aug. 29 and Sept. 5. The governor said no action needed to be taken; if eligible, the money will just be sent, probably in two chunks – $600 more one week, $300 more the next.
For those who are unemployed and under-skilled, Raimondo said the state has gotten “hard commitments” from local companies to hire 3,000 people who take part in the Back to Work Initiative by the end of 2020.
“If you are eager to work and willing to learn new skills, check out the Back to Work initiative,” she said, noting that childcare will be offered for parents during the training. The program is free – the state is using federal CARES Act money to cover the costs. “At the end of the training, there will be a job,” she said, acknowledging “it may be in a different area then what you’re used to.”
The program is designed to help those who have felt left out of the job market, including the formerly incarcerated and those without a college degree.
Raimondo said the start of the school year had, by and large, gone well, but noted statewide COVID positive cases were up from last week, if not yet worrisome.
“It’s not a cause for alarm, but it’s a call to stay vigilant,” she said, “and not let our guard down.
Regarding air quality concerns voiced by many teachers unions, especially the Providence teachers union, Raimondo reiterated that a box fan and two open windows provide enough air exchange (as much as 8 times an hour) to keep a classroom safe. Filtration systems work too, she said, but they are more expensive. Raimondo said ventilation systems – the box fan and open windows – are enough.
“A lot of school buildings are old,” she said. “They were old last year and they’re still old this year.” She said she wanted to fix that, but right now the air safety of the classrooms could be addressed through ventilation.
At the end of the press conference, the subject of Halloween came up. At first, Raimondo demurred, “Halloween,” she said, pausing, “we haven’t gotten that far yet.”
But then she said, “Halloween has to go on one way or another. We cannot cancel Halloween.”
She asked for people to send her ideas of how to celebrate Halloween safety. Email the governor HERE.
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