PROVIDENCE — Governor Gina Raimondo said Wednesday that all Rhode Island residents who receive unemployment benefits during the state’s upcoming two-week “pause” to stem the spread of COVID-19 will get an extra $200 a week, part of a $100-million package designed to help workers and businesses affected by the state’s temporary partial shutdown.
The package is funded by the money that Rhode Island received through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) act. The governor said support also would be available for low-income Rhode Islanders, and $50 million is being set aside for businesses that are forced to close or scale back their hours during the pause, which begins Nov. 30.
The two-week pause will close bars, casinos, gyms, and other recreational facilities and is designed to curb an alarming spike in hospitalizations due to COVID-19 infections. During a press conference Wednesday, Raimondo once again urged Rhode Islanders to avoid travel and to celebrate Thanksgiving at home with members of their household only.
“If we don’t take it seriously, our hospitals will be overwhelmed within a matter of weeks and we will have to turn patients away,” Raimondo said. The Rhode Island Department of Health reported 845 new cases and 10 new deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities to 1,335 since March 1. There were 357 residents in the hospital, the largest number since May 1.
Raimondo said that the state’s hospitals have already reached capacity for their COVID-specific beds, and there’s fear that as cases rise, the hospitals will be forced to turn away patients who might need other procedures or treatments. She also said a field hospital in Cranston is expected to be ready for use by next week.
“If we let COVID get further out of control, it doesn’t just mean that we’re going to lose Rhode Islanders to COVID, it means we’re going to lose Rhode Islanders to other diseases,” Raimondo said.
The $100-million incentive package for unemployed residents and businesses was announced on the same day that a coalition of small-business owners held a drive-in rally outside the State House to call on Raimondo to release more of the CARES Act funding.
The state received $1.25 billion from the federal government in the spring, but Raimondo has been reluctant to spend the money until Congress approves another relief package. A second federal stimulus appears unlikely before the end of the year and the original money must be spent by Dec. 31.
Raimondo said the additional $200 a week in unemployment requires no additional paperwork other than the standard unemployment documents that are filed. Residents who were already on unemployment are eligible, along with anyone who is forced to file for unemployment because their businesses are closed over the next two weeks.
The $50-million program for businesses is run through the state Division of Taxation, and businesses will be eligible for up to $50,000 in grants based on the revenue they will probably lose during the two-week pause on the economy. Raimondo said business owners will be required to self-attest that they are losing money, and the state will quickly move to provide them with the grants, which are intended to be used to help pay employees during the pause. Applications were scheduled to be accepted at www.tax.ri.gov beginning Friday.
Residents who are in the country illegally are not eligible for either of the state’s new grant programs, but Raimondo said that there are still $400 gift cards available through Dorcas International for those in need.
Raimondo hasn’t said whether there is a threshold for new cases that would force her to extend the two-week pause, but she acknowledged that she doesn’t intend to fully lift the state’s restrictions after Dec. 13. She referred to her strategy as a “dial up” rather than a “switch on.”
Raimondo said the state will continue to ramp up testing, including offering 1,000 tests a day to residents of Central Falls, one of the hardest-hit communities in the region. She said that she would like to see every resident of the city be tested, although she admitted that the goal may not be realistic.
In a moment of levity, Raimondo read from a handwritten letter from a 6-year-old in Cranston, who asked whether Santa Claus can visit this year.
“Santa and his elves are immune from COVID,” Raimondo declared.