Action One:
Help Someone Apply to Vote-by-Mail

This week is “Vote-by-Mail Week”, and the Democratic Party of Georgia (DPG) set a goal of helping 70,000 voters apply for Vote-by-Mail ballots. On Friday they had already assisted 67,859 people, so they increased their goal to 80,000. Help blow-the-top off their goal by reaching out to people you know today.

Each person you get to apply for Vote-by-Mail this week will be more likely to Vote-by-Mail in November, which will help us deliver the votes to defeat Donald Trump. The DPG has on-line resources that explain how to Vote-by-Mail.  Check them out — I especially like the video!

Voter Protection Hotline: 1-888-730-5816: Applied, but haven’t received your ballot? Can’t find a ballot dropbox? Call this hotline for any questions related to voting. This service is the single most important effort I have ever seen the DPG accomplish in the twenty years I have been involved in Georgia politics. One Senate 40 constituent called the hotline this week because she had not received her ballot. She was patched through to the DeKalb Elections Office, where she found out they had no record of her request (she had faxed her request and they had some faxes that had not come through clearly). The lesson? Be tenacious!

Action Two:
Donate to a Food Bank

I have a long list of people I’m helping to obtain their unemployment benefits.  Some of them have been waiting for weeks and their situations are heartbreaking. It’s frustratingly slow.  I’m practically stalking the Department of Labor’s Commissioner, Mark Butler, trying to get updates and information — even begging him to personally help. During a Senate Democratic Caucus conference call, he literally told me to send him an email, and “put it in red,” so he could find it among the thousands of emails he is getting. I’m happy to be “The Senator in Red,” if it helps people get the cash they need to pay rent and put food on the table.

During a normal, pre-pandemic month, the Department of Labor is staffed to process about 20,000 claims. In April alone, they processed over one million. They don’t have the funds to staff up to meet the demand, and one of their offices has been hit by COVID.

These are the people who need the help of food banks on a temporary basis to feed their families. The Atlanta Community Food Bank estimates that they are serving 30 – 40% more families than they did before the pandemic, and that the financial support from donors has been “unbelievable.” Stimulus money continues to be slow to reach the people who need it. Consider making a monthly contribution to your local food bank, or donate to the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

Action Three:
Call the Governor’s Office

Last week I told you about a huge Softball Tournament scheduled in Dalton, potentially drawing a crowd of up to 5,000 people from various states. When I called the Governor’s office to ask if this event might violate the bans on large group events, I was told the Governor would soon be announcing a “clarifying Order.”

The Order was announced on Tuesday, May 12th. It’s 30 pages long and loosens some restrictions for daycare, restaurants, summer camps, and swimming pools. But it keeps in place a ban on large group gatherings where social distancing cannot, or is not, adhered to.

I can report that the Softball Tournament was cancelled. Wednesday of this week, I received the following correspondence from the Governor’s office: “We strongly discourage large gatherings like this. If they choose to move forward then they need to ensure proper social distancing guidelines are taking place. If there is a violation then people need to contact local law enforcement. Again, we strongly recommend that they don’t take place because of the difficulty of social distancing in these events.”

The lesson of the story: Phone calls can make a difference. The Governor’s phone number is 404-656-1776

Action Four:
Know your Tests and Be Cautious

I have noticed confusion about the different kinds of COVID tests, and private clinics throughout the district have signs out front advertising “COVID Tests Here.” So I asked Senate 40 resident Mark Perloe, MD, to write up a summary to help people navigate this confusing testing landscape. Thanks, Mark! Here’s what he has to say:

“It has been suggested that increased testing for COVID-19 will help us move past the pandemic. Unfortunately, too many questions remain about the implications of test results and how to act on them. This is further complicated by a multitude of different test types and companies offering test kits. And a negative viral test today does not mean you won’t be exposed and develop COVID-19 a week or two later.

There are two types of tests being offered. The first type of test, offered at no cost through your local Health Department, looks for the presence of viral RNA particles by using a sample obtained from high in your nasal passages. The results are usually reported in 2-3 days. If the virus is found, you will need to quarantine for a period of two weeks after your symptoms resolve. This type of testing is rather uncomfortable, but it is the most accurate method to determine the presence of the virus. A similar type of test to detect the presence of the virus uses a cheek swab or saliva sample. It has been reported that up to 30% of people shedding virus may test negative by this method. So, if you have tested negative with this less aggressive sampling, you should go ahead and quarantine.

One to three weeks after the initial infection, a second type of test looks for COVID-19 antibodies. While a positive result shows that you have been exposed to the corona virus and that your immune system is mounting a response, unfortunately, it does not indicate that you are immune to reinfection. Your immune system may have produced antibodies for other types of corona virus [the common cold virus] which affect the accuracy of antibody tests. Additionally, a positive antibody test may not remain positive a few months later. It also does not address whether you still carry the virus and might infect someone else who is less able to fight off the infection.

While this may sound rather bleak, the speed at which our understanding grows offers hope. Scientists are improving testing methods and access to testing has increased. Research teams around the world are working to develop a safe and effective vaccine against the corona virus. Until such time as we have testing that easily identifies those who carry the virus and those who are immune, we should all act with caution and practice physically distancing, and avoid large gatherings. Frequent handwashing, remembering to avoid touching your face, and remembering to keep that face mask on when in public can help life begin a new normal.”

For more information, visit the CDC website.

Action Five:
Pay your State Taxes Now if you Can

I am carefully watching monthly state revenue reports. Surprisingly, March revenues were up, but April was down by 1.03 billion. Much of this decrease is due, however, to the shifting of our income tax deadline from April 15th to July 15th. Georgia currently has 2.7 billion dollars in its “rainy day fund,” half of which will be needed to pay for State operations through the end of the current fiscal year, June 30th. If you are able to pay your 2019 state income taxes before June 30th, it will help the state make its budget for this fiscal year.

Despite having very little information about the behavior of the economy, the Governor will need to set a revenue estimate for the 2020 – 2021 fiscal year, which begins July 1. The State Economist, Dr. Jeffrey Dorfman, will advise the Governor using projections. Dr. Dorfman told the Joint House & Senate Appropriations Committees to expect revenue to lag the first quarter (July – September) when he expects revenue to dip around 10%, or 600 million dollars, before the economy picks up in the fall. For this reason, the Governor has asked all departments to cut their budgets by 14%, which is severe enough to require employee furloughs.

The 155th Georgia General Assembly will reconvene its suspended session next month. Right now the Speaker of the House and the Lt. Governor are squabbling as to whether that date will be June 11th or 15th. But what we do know is that we must go back in June to pass the 2020 – 2021 budget so the State can operate.

Like most states, Georgia must pass a balanced budget, meaning we cannot spend more than the revenue we bring in. For that reason, Georgia cannot spend money to generate economic stimulus the way Congress can. This is why we need national leadership.

Action Six:
Support a Local Candidate

In 2018 we added a significant number of Democratic votes and voices to the Georgia legislature, bringing about moderation and balance, but we need more votes to be able to put a stop to reckless governing. To help find a candidate to support, access the Georgia 159 Together Voter Guide, an amazing spreadsheet that tells you who’s running and which districts are flippable (click on GA House & GA Senate tabs at the bottom of the spreadsheet).

What if the Governor’s revenue estimate is too high? The Governor gets to slash the budget with no legislative oversight as the year moves along, just as he did in 2019 when he told departments to cut by 4% because there “might” be an economic downturn. I have only recently observed Georgia leaders overestimating revenue. Rather, our fiscally conservative state has had a long history of underestimating revenue, allowing the legislature to target additional spending if and when it comes in higher than expected.

Georgia’s government is structured to have a strong Governor and a “weak” citizen legislature. And during this emergency, the Governor has extraordinary powers. For instance, the state received millions of dollars in CARES Act stimulus money. Though much of this money must be distributed according to formulas, the State has a pretty big pot of federal money to allocate to COVID related expenses. Legislatures in some states, like North Carolina, have participated in the appropriations of these funds. I have asked the Governor’s office for the accounting of how these funds have been spent, but have yet to receive them.

When the legislature reconvenes next month, it will not be business as usual. Most of the bills we passed on March 12th, Crossover Day, will remain “on the table.” Because physical distancing is not possible in the House and Senate Chambers, legislators will distribute themselves throughout the Capitol complex, only to return to the Chamber when they are called in small groups to vote. This process will be very slow, thus our calendar of bills and amendments will be limited. I don’t expect healthy debate to occur, and the most important part of Democracy, participation by the people, is certainly jeopardized.

We have a Governor who campaigned on slashing government. Remember the ad where Kemp says, “I’m Brian Kemp. I’m so conservative, I blow up government spending,” while viewing a literal explosion in the background? This Governor is not going to be crying over slashing the very services our State government provides —  education, healthcare, transportation, parks, nursing home care for the elderly, and services for the developmentally diabled. If this upsets you, promote Vote-by-Mail now, and find a candidate to support. We might be physically distanced, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get things done.


May 15 Capacity In Use Available
Ventilators 2,840 852 1,988
ICU Beds 2,963 2,082 881
ER Beds 3,348 966 2,382
General Beds 15,146 10,492 4,654

source- Georgia Hospital Association