KATY (Covering Katy News) - There have been more unemployment claims in the Katy area and Fort Bend County than any other place in the state. Those facts are revealed in a Texas Workforce Commission report showing unemployment claims grouped by legislative districts.
The two state legislators with the most claims in their district are Democrat Gina Calanni, who represents District 132, the Katy-Cypress area, and Republican Gary Gates, who represents District 28 in the Katy and Fort Bend County areas.
As of May 18 there were 9,153 unemployment claims made by residents of Calanni's Katy-Cypress area district. The number of unemployment claims in Gates' district are a close second with 9,064, made by residents in the Katy and Fort Bend areas.
A neighboring district has the third most claims. State Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston, represents an area that stretches from the Katy Freeway in Houston's energy corridor to Beltway 8 near the Southwest Freeway. Vo's district had 7,721 unemployment claims during the same period.
Gates and Calanni believe this is only the start of what will be a very difficult time ahead.
“As unemployed Texans wait for the Workforce Commission to resolve their unemployment claims, many are also confronted with losing their employer-sponsored health insurance during a public health crisis,” Calanni said. "That is why I continue to support Medicaid expansion. Texas is now one of only 14 states that continues to decline billions of dollars in federal funds that Texas taxpayers have already sent to Washington, D.C. We are leaving $10 billion a year on the table and denying health care access to over 1 million Texans, who would be eligible for coverage under Medicaid expansion.”
Gates is concerned that people are putting off surgeries that they need. During the start of the pandemic, hospitals were told by government mandate to cancel elective surgeries in order to leave room for an expected massive influx of patients with COVID-19. That influx never happened. Those who predicted that it would happen were wrong, and medical facilities have been harmed by the loss of revenues from surgeries.
Now, Gates says hospital administrators are telling him that people are not rescheduling those surgeries because they fear hospitals are a place where the risk of contracting coronavirus is elevated.
“No one is rushing in to get surgeries. They are scared," he said.
Calanni said it's not only those who need surgery that are avoiding medical care.
"Many Texans are putting off doctor visits, creating a greater risk for everyone," she said.
Both Gates and Calanni believe fear of COVID-19 will cause more health problems in the long-term, whether it’s because they are not booking needed surgeries or because they're avoiding routine doctor visits. Jason Tharp of the Harris County Emergency Services District 48 Fire Department says there is evidence to support the claims made by Gates and Calanni.
"What we are noticing, not only locally but across the country, is that due to COVID concerns, people are putting their normal checkups and health care concerns on hold," Tharp said. "This has been concerning on many levels, but noticeably we have seen a dramatic drop in the amount of heart attack patients seeking medical care and a rise in the amount of cardiac arrest calls. Prior to COVID, we averaged 12-15 heart attack referrals from Methodist West monthly. In March we received three, and April and May so far we have had zero. This either means that COVID has cured heart attacks, or more appropriately that people with health problems aren’t seeking medical care," Tharp said.
Gates says hospitals have seen a large drop in revenue, and so have other industries in the Katy and Fort Bend areas.
"We have a lot of hospitals out here," Gates said. "We have the medical center, and many of these employees come and live in Fort Bend County. Then you throw in the energy corridor and all the layoffs that are happening there, and the restaurants.
Now that many businesses are being allowed to reopen, some workers on the lower end of the pay scale are not returning to their jobs, according to Gates.
"People are making on average $21 per hour. They’re making more money on unemployment," Gates said.
He believes that there will have to be adjustments made that will allow hourly wage Texans to go back to work and not take an immediate cut to their income.
"You need to equalize it, make an incentive for people to come back," Gates said. "You will probably need to extend benefits for several months to get people back to work."
"Even when the economy comes back there is going to be a reluctance upon business to hire back. Hospitals have been so decimated by this that they are going to be slow to hire back," Gates said.
He also noted that his "number one complaint" is that appraisal districts need to reflect that property values are lower. Once property valuations are lowered, tax revenue to school districts and governmental agencies will also be lower.
"This is why the economic damages are only beginning to be understood right now," Gates said.
"Families are balancing online learning, searching for new employment and figuring out where their next meal is going to come from," Calanni said. "The financial devastation alone is a challenge to Texas families and small businesses, but many are having to work through so much more."
"We are going to have 25% unemployment," Gates predicted.