Report from the House

Carl Albrecht, Representative

Unemployment — Unemployment insurance claims dropped 13 percent from the previous week to 5,455 claims. While it is a 13 percent decrease from the previous week, it is still a 382 percent increase from the average weekly claims seen in 2019. More than $26.4 million was paid in state benefits. More than $48.8 million were paid in federal dollars from the CARES Act $600 weekly stimulus. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims had an additional 2,278 individuals filed and more than $8.1 million paid in federal dollars last week for PUA benefits. 

More than 9,700 individuals ended their unemployment claim last week. This is a positive indicator that people are beginning to return to work.

High Risk Individuals — 70 percent of those who have passed away from COVID-19 were at least 65 years old. 90 percent of those who have passed away were older than 65 and had an underlying medical condition. Please help us protect our high-risk population and take the necessary precautions if you fall within this category. High risk individuals include anyone over the age of 65, people who live in a nursing home or long-term facility, people with chronic lung disease or moderate-to-severe asthma, people with severe heart conditions and people who are immunocompromised, obese, or have other underlying health conditions. It is essential that high-risk individuals continue to follow the guidelines issued by the Department of Health. 

Utah Leads Together 3.0 — The economic focus in the Utah Leads Together 3.0 plan is the state’s next step in continuing the growth of our strong and diverse economy that makes Utah a national leader. As we each continue to do our part, we will get through this together. 

Appropriations Subcommittees — Last week, Appropriations Subcommittees met to discuss potential budget cuts. Legislators will reduce the budget by up to $1 billion to make up for economic losses due to COVID-19. These are not easy decisions, but cuts must be made somewhere. Committees discussed potential 2, 5 and 10 percent cuts to each budget. 

Social Services — The Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee met Tuesday and Friday to discuss budget cuts at the 2 percent, 5 percent and 10 percent levels primarily affecting the Utah Department of Health, Utah Department of Workforce Services and Utah Department of Human Services. The committee made several amendments to the proposed list before sending recommendations to the executive appropriations committee. 

Business, Economic Development and Labor —Wednesday, the Business, Economic Development, and Labor Appropriations Subcommittee met and approved recommended cuts at the 2 percent, 5 percent and 10 percent level for the following entities — Labor Commission, Dept. of Insurance, Tax Commission, Dept. of Commerce, GOED, DABC, and the Dept. of Heritage and Arts. These cuts will be forwarded on to the executive appropriations committee for their consideration. The committee also voted unanimously to communicate to EAC that despite their recommended cuts to DABC, it be held as harmless as possible, given that it is a revenue-generating entity for the state. 

Public Education — Also Wednesday, the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee met and approved recommended cuts at the 2 percent level. They began providing recommendations at the 5 percent level, but ran out of time. They will meet again Monday. Legislative Fiscal Analysts, Utah State Board of Education and Utah School Boards Association all made their own list of proposed cuts. The majority of the suggestions that passed committee were those that LFA and USBE were in agreement on, with USBA providing support for many of the recommendations. Public Education will likely see fewer cuts than other parts of the budget. 

Retirement and Independent Entities — Also Wednesday, the Retirement and Independent Entities appropriations subcommittee met and approved recommended cuts at the 2 percent, 5 percent and 10 percent level for the executive appropriations committee to consider. There were minimal changes from the agency suggestions on both the one-time and ongoing cuts.

Executive offices and criminal justice — After considering proposed cuts at the 2 percent, 5 percent and 10 percent level, the executive offices and criminal justice appropriations subcommittee are set to meet again this week.

Higher Education — Many have asked if the Legislature can just use the rainy day fund to supplement the economic losses in public and higher education. Utah has two rainy day accounts, the education and general rainy day funds. Both sources are for one-time funding and are generally used to backfill deficits. Historically, the Legislature has tried to reduce spending prior to using these funds. 

The Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, Wednesday, recommended to allow each institution to determine where to make cuts in their individual budgets once new revenue estimates have been released and the Legislature determines if a 2, 5 or 10 percent cut is needed. 

Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environmental Quality — The Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee met May 20, and approved the recommended cuts at 2 percent, 5 percent and 10 percent from the Department of Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture and Food, Department of Environment Quality, Office of Energy Development, and Public Lands Policy Coordination Office.

 Rioting on Saturday — I was very saddened to see the rioting in Salt Lake City and throughout the country. Our Constitution allows people to peacefully gather and protest, but this was outright thievery and personal and public property damage. Violence detracts from the message the protest was hoping to emphasize. Those responsible should be held accountable. There is plenty of video to determine those perpetrators.

I want to thank all of the law enforcement agencies that responded in a professional manner to a challenging situation without anyone being seriously injured. I was also pleased that on Sunday, volunteers helped clean up the Capitol building and other areas that were defaced. We will get through this as well, but people need to start standing up for the Rule of Law, upon which our country firmly stands.

Thanks again for the opportunity to update you and for the privilege of representing you. I will always stand tall for our rural values. 

(1) comment

GeneralDisarray

Carl, I'm curious. When unemployment claims are at a remarkably high level and as we continue to rely on our department of health to manage Covid (which is assuredly not over), why are we cutting the social services budget? Wouldn't this be the time to raise the social services budget?

Before you get excited state revenue, isn't it also worth noting that when the economy is doing very well, that is also viewed as the time to cut social services? When, in your opinion, is the right time to raise their budget? Never?

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