Coronavirus: Holcomb Aims For School Funding Certainty, GOP Rejects Expanded Vote-By-Mail

Aug 17, 2020

At a remote, video meeting of the Indiana Election Commission Friday, Republicans again rejected an attempt to expand vote-by-mail for this year’s general election.
Credit (Justin Hicks/IPB News)

The Indiana State Department of Health reported 89 additional confirmed deaths over the last week, bringing the state’s total to 2,924. The state announced more than 80,000 total confirmed cases – including three days with more than 1,000 reported cases – and more than 906,000 Hoosiers tested.

Holcomb Aims To Provide Some School Funding Certainty

Gov. Eric Holcomb and Republican legislative leaders want to provide schools with more certainty about funding for at least the first half of the new school year.

Funding became a huge question mark earlier this month after Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) sent a letter to schools warning them they could lose 15 percent of state dollars if they don’t reopen to in-person instruction.

READ MORE: Indiana Lawmaker Says Schools Could Face Cuts If Offering Only Online Instruction

State law normally restricts funding for virtual education. But Holcomb said, amid a pandemic, he wants to ensure schools get what they need.

“Alleviate some of the concerns, some of that uncertainty about funding for our schools," Holcomb said. "They have done a yeoman’s job, heroic work; I know it’s been a herculean task.”

As Additional Pandemic Help Expires, Schools Worry What It Means For Homeless Students

Indiana’s moratorium on evictions expired last week and additional pandemic unemployment benefits ended earlier, and schools are on edge for what it could mean for students with unstable housing.

Angie Vickery, director of special services for Anderson Community Schools, said she’s worried expiring pandemic assistance will force even more students into unstable housing situations. She said it’s especially concerning if that means more people having to live under one roof during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You know, you really can’t social distance if you’re living with 12 people in a house that’s made for 4 people,” she said. “I’ve even had some families tell me already that it’s spreading in their family because we have a house of 15 people.”

Addressing housing needs is critical for students to be successful academically. State data shows homeless students graduate at a rate about 10 percent lower than others.

Indiana Republicans Again Reject Any Expansion Of Vote-By-Mail

At a remote, video meeting of the Indiana Election Commission Friday, Republicans again rejected an attempt to expand vote-by-mail for this year’s general election.

Democrats are trying to allow more Hoosiers to cast their ballots that way during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.

Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana 2020 Two-Way. Text "elections" to 73224. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need on COVID-19 and the 2020 election.

Indiana law only allows Hoosiers to vote absentee by mail for 11 reasons, including if they're 65 or older or if they'll be absent from their county the entire time polls are open on Election Day. But the Election Commission expanded vote-by-mail for this year’s primary, allowing anyone who wanted one to cast their ballot by mail due to the ongoing public health crisis. 

Now, Republican commission members question whether they can do that again, without any reason to suggest it’s not possible.

Chair Paul Okeson said there are also ongoing court cases trying to force Indiana to expand vote-by-mail.

“In my opinion, I think it’s premature for the Election Commission to take any action by voting today until the courts have had a chance to hand down their rulings in these cases,” Okeson said.

All IN: Conspiracies And Misinformation Surrounding COVID-19

The internet has made it easier for false information about the virus to appear factual, changing the way some people react to it. Indiana Public Broadcasting’s All IN spoke with IUPUI Director of Epidemiology Education Tom Duszynki and Joanne Miller, professor of political science and international relations at University of Delaware, about some of these conspiracies and false claims as well as their impact.

Miller says the reason people turn to conspiracy theories is largely psychological.

“During a pandemic it’s a perfect storm of uncertainty, lack of control and powerless,” Miller says. “Conspiracy theories are one form of an explanation that some people can sort of cling to as a way to gain back some control.”

State Consumer Advocate: People Need More Time To Pay Overdue Utility Bills

Gov. Eric Holcomb recently said the state has no plans to further extend a ban on utility shutoffs during the COVID-19 crisis. But more than 11 percent of Hoosiers are still unemployed and cases are going up. 

Consumer advocates hope the state will give people more time to pay off their overdue bills. The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor wants all state-regulated utilities to offer payment plans of at least 12 months to their customers.

Spokesperson Anthony Swinger said, as of June, many people with bills more than 60 days past due hadn't signed up for payment plans.

The northern Indiana utility NIPSCO worries a 12-month payment plan for all customers would encourage some customers who usually pay on time to put off paying their bills.

On Wednesday, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission ordered state-regulated utilities to offer payment plans of at least six months for their customers. Late fees, disconnection fees and reconnection fees have also been suspended until Oct. 12. 

Contact Lauren at lchapman@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @laurenechapman_.