Gov. Mark Gordon has signed a trio of emergency bills passed by the Wyoming Legislature during a marathon 36-hour special session Friday and Saturday that includes financial help for landlords, renters and homeowners struggling because of coronavirus-related income losses.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s response to the virus, Gordon has repeatedly said he wanted to address the situation of people not being able to make their rent or mortgage payments because they’ve had their pay cut, lost hours or their jobs because of the coronavirus. He also has been adamant that any financial relief also include landlords and property owners.
During a Wednesday afternoon briefing about the state’s virus response and the special session, Gordon said he’s pleased with Senate File 1002, which creates an eviction prevention program that will be overseen by the Wyoming Community Development Authority.
While the bill is aimed at preventing evictions, it doesn’t go so far as to restrict landlords and banks from evicting or repossessing, he said.
What it does is provide $15 million in CARES ACT money to the Development Authority to distribute to landlords and tenants who apply and meet certain criteria. That criteria includes for tenants that a significant portion of their income losses be virus-related and for landlords that they’re losing 25% or more of their income because of the pandemic. If landlords receive money to help bridge the gap of tenants not paying, tenants at the properties can’t be evicted.
Scott Hoversland, executive director of the Wyoming Community Development Authority, said his office is working now to get the application processes finished and online as soon as possible and that people can begin applying by June 1 and the maximum benefit for each applicant will be $2,000.
“We have worked with our cohorts in Montana that have a program running right now, since the seventh of May,” Hoversland said about what Wyoming’s program may look like. “We will be able to mimic a lot of it, but again, all states are different in how they operate and their makeup.”
Assisted living facilities
Along with outlining a massive $325 million three-pronged plan to aid businesses affected by the pandemic with payments of $50,000 up to $300,000 depending on their numbers of employees, Gordon and Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state public health officer, also discussed a plan to increase testing at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
In a nutshell, the state wants all facilities to test at least 20% of their residents and staff every two weeks, Harrist said. They can either test through the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory in Cheyenne or do them through a commercial lab and have the results reported to the state.
“This effort will help us to be sure we are not missing potential outbreaks among our (residents) who are most vulnerable during this pandemic,” Harrist said. “The earlier we identify potential trouble spots, the more we can take action to limit the spread.”
She also said that should a resident or worker be found to have COVID-19, then all residents and staff will be tested weekly until the threat of an outbreak has passed.
Harrist said there is “substantial evidence” that people who have the virus but don’t show symptoms are a risk to nursing homes and assisted living centers where vulnerable populations of people are.
Workers Compensation relief
Along with creating the eviction prevention program, SF 1002 also changes state law relating to Workers Compensation.
It allows people who have to miss work because they get the virus to file for the program. At the same time, it also exempts employers from being penalized or charged for employees who file because they have COVID-19.