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Gordon Allows Bigger Size For Outdoor Gatherings, Indoors Still Limited

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Updated state public health orders will allow more people to gather at outdoor events beginning Aug. 16, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Wednesday.

A news release from Gordon’s office said outdoor venues will be allowed to seat 50% of their capacity up to a maximum of 1,000 people allowed. Social distancing and increased sanitization measures must be in place.

Attendance at indoor gatherings in confined spaces remains limited to 50 people without restrictions, 250 if social distancing and sanitzation measures are incorporated.

“We are seeing promising trends but we want to continue to exercise caution as schools around the state prepare for reopening,” Gordon said in the release. “We have seen outdoor events occur safely this summer and we want to ensure that schools are able to host spectators for their outdoor activities this fall.”

The public health restrictions that apply to restaurants, bars, gyms and performance spaces will remain in place through Aug. 31.

Faith-based gatherings such as church services and funerals will continue to be permitted to operate without restrictions, with appropriate social distancing encouraged.

Over the past 14 days, Wyoming has averaged 30 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 per day, with 412 new cases confirmed since July 29. From July 12 through 26, Wyoming averaged 37 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 per day with 523 lab-confirmed cases reported.

The Wyoming Department of Health and Gordon continue to recommend the use of face coverings in public settings where it is not possible or reasonable to stay physically apart. On Wyoming’s COVID-19 dashboard the categories of number of new cases and new hospitalizations continue to be rated “concerning.”

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Gordon: UW Students Could Receive CARES Funds Due To COVID Impact

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

University of Wyoming students could receive up to $3,250 in federal coronavirus relief funds to help pay their school expenses in the fall semester, Gov. Mark Gordon announced in a news release Friday.

Gordon has approved $20 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security funding to launch a new program for university students affected by the coronavirus. The CARES Wyoming College Grant Program will help stimulate the state’s economy by supporting Wyoming’s workforce through increased student retention and completion at UW, the state’s only public, four-year research university, the release said.

“In this challenging time, it could not be more important that we invest in Wyoming’s future by investing in our college students,” Gordon said in the release. “Students who pause their college education often never return to campus. This is an opportunity to help ensure Wyoming students are able to continue pursuing their educational goals.”

To participate in the program, UW students must be U.S. citizens and have been impacted financially by the coronavirus.

Full-time undergraduate and graduate level students, including both resident and non-resident students, will receive up to $3,250 for the fall semester.

For part-time students, the funding will be prorated according to the number of enrolled hours and all funding will be distributed some time this fall.

All current and new UW students are eligible. The deadline for new students to apply for admission to UW and secure additional funding for the fall semester is Aug. 21.

Students who are already enrolled and qualify for the CARES Wyoming College Grant Program funding must apply for these funds on or before Dec. 1.

The university is setting up an online interactive tool for students to determine whether they are eligible to receive funding. Beginning Monday, Aug. 10, full details and application information will be available at www.uwyo.edu/cares.

UW’s fall semester begins Aug. 24, with a mixture of in-person and online courses.

“This plan will help sustain and even grow Wyoming’s talented workforce, critical to the economic future we need after the current financial difficulties,” UW President Ed Seidel said in the release. “Fortunately, we know the character of our Cowboys. Their grit and resilience and determination mean they have what it takes to get back on track, individually and as a university.

“Postsecondary certificate and degree attainment is one of the most critical factors that will assist in the robust and timely economic recovery of Wyoming after the COVID-19 health emergency is over or adequately mitigated,” Seidel added.

While UW has an existing program that awards federal, state and private financial aid to its students, this new round of funding will be awarded in a different manner.

CARES Wyoming College Grant Program funding will be distributed as “last-dollar-in” financial aid, after Hathaway merit or need-based aid, Pell grant funds or any other scholarships or grants.

The awards will help cover expenses other than tuition and fees, such as housing and meals, as the pandemic has eroded housing and food security of UW students, the release said. Recipients must commit to comply with UW’s policies to limit the spread of the virus.

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Gordon Launches Wyoming CARES Funds Transparency Website

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon has created a page on the “Wyoming Sense” state spending transparency website outlining how the state is using federal dollars awarded through federal coronavirus relief.

As of Thursday, Gordon has allocated more than $710 million of the $1.25 billion in federal funds Wyoming was provided by Congress to address the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

During a special legislative session in May, the Wyoming Legislature provided guidelines as to how that money should be spent, splitting the funds into three disbursements.

The first amounted to $450 million and was made available for allocation on May 25.

The second amounted to $400 million and was made available for allocation on July 15.

The third will amount to another $400 million and won’t become eligible for allocation until Sept. 15.

The CARES Act spending page breaks down spending into nine categories:

  • Economic/business relief ($327.3 million);
  • Education resilience ($110.5 million);
  • Broadband and communications infrastructure ($100 million);
  • Testing and contact tracing ($60 million);
  • Unemployment and Workers Compensation ($42.2 million);
  • Local governments ($35.9 million);
  • Eviction prevention and support ($15 million);
  • State agencies’ COVID response ($12.2 million);
  • Judicial and legislative branches ($7 million).

The page, https://www.wyomingsense.gov/cares-act, includes additional details on each category, along with helpful links and additional resources. It will be updated regularly as additional funds are allocated. 

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No Response (Yet) To Wyoming’s Bid On Occidental Land

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

State officials have received no response to their bid on more than 1 million acres of private land in southern Wyoming, an official said Monday.

Michael Pearlman, a spokesman for Gov. Mark Gordon, said Occidental Petroleum has not reached out to the state since the bid was submitted in early July.

“I can tell you … that we have not had any communication from Occidental since we submitted our bid,” he said in an email.

The state’s top elected officials, meeting as the State Loan and Investment Board, decided on July 6 to authorize Gordon, Treasurer Curt Meier and the state’s chief investment officer to submit a bid for the land now owned by Occidental. The group was also given the authority to bid on 4 million acres of mineral rights also held by Occidental.Occidental has said other entities have expressed an interest in bidding for the land.

If the bid is accepted, it will signal the start of negotiations over the land’s actual purchase, Gordon and Meier have said.

The actual purchase will also be preceded by public hearings on the deal to be held at various locations around the state.

If the state decides to purchase the land, the money will come from its investment funds.

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Gordon Grants 180-Day Extension For Expired Drivers Licenses

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Good news if your drivers license has expired in the last few months: You have additional time to get it renewed.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation announced on Monday that Gov. Mark Gordon has signed a 180-day grace period which will give residents more time to get it done.

The extension, which applies to credentials expiring between March 15, 2020 through Sept. 30, 2020, allows members of high-risk groups to wait to renew.

“We are open for business and encourage people that can, to come in and renew their driver license prior to their expiration date.  However, we realize our high-risk citizens, those with underlying health conditions and those who are older, may want to take advantage of this extension so they remain safe,” said Misty Dobson, WYDOT’s Driver Services program manager.

What if you get pulled over for a traffic infraction?

WYDOT advises those who have an expired license to go to its website to download and print the 180-day grace period letter and take it with them.

Word of caution: The grace period letter may not work for other transactions which require proof of identification.

One Cowboy State Daily reader said his banking transaction was not allowed because his drivers license had expired.

One other cautionary note: If you are flying soon, it would be advantageous to get your drivers license updated as TSA agents are notorious sticklers for proper identification.

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Gordon Upset By Closure Of Lamb Processing Plant

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The impending closure of the country’s second-largest lamb processing plant in Colorado is more evidence of unhealthy consolidation of the country’s meat packing industry, Gov. Mark Gordon said in a letter to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Gordon, in the Thursday letter, said he was distressed about the announced purchase of Mountain States Rosen’s lamb processing facility by JBS USA Holdings, a Brazilian company.

“This transaction marks the end of on-site lamb processing and represents further consolidation of the packing industry and increased foreign influence on American markets,” Gordon’s letter said.

JBS was the winning bidder for the Greeley, Colorado, plant in bankruptcy proceedings. JBS, the largest importer of lamb in the country, said it has no plans to process lambs at the plant in the future.

The MSR plant serves sheep ranchers in at least 15 states, Gordon said, and the JBS takeover leaves sheep ranchers in Wyoming and elsewhere with nowhere to process their sheep.

Gordon said he is worried about what the closure will mean to the agriculture industry.

“As a businessperson, today I see a giant getting bigger; as a rancher, I wonder where my neighbors will take their lambs; as a father, I worry for those next generations; and as Governor, I worry about what this loss means to the state and our producers as a whole,” he wrote. “I do not believe there is any realistic way to avoid repeating what is happening today unless we set our eyes on the future.”

Gordon said MSR was itself created in an attempt to resolve the consolidation of the meat packing industry in the hands of a few large companies.

“They rose to become the second-largest lamb processor in the nation and yet, at the end of the day, they are trampled by a monolithic foreign corporation,” he said. “I question whether or not this becomes an antitrust issue. We can dismantle AT&T but cannot look at the companies that supply food to our citizens?”

U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso in May joined members of Congress from other states in urging Attorney General William P. Barr to look into allegations of price manipulation and anti-competitive behavior in the beef packing industry.

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Gordon Extends Current Public Health Orders Again, To Last Until Aug. 15

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon announced Tuesday afternoon that Wyoming’s current public health orders will remain in place until at least Aug. 15 as coronavirus cases continue to rise in the state.

According to a news release from Gordon’s office, the continuing orders allow gatherings of up to 50 people in a confined space to occur without restrictions and permits outside events of up to 250 people with social distancing and increased sanitzation measures in place.

Faith-based gatherings such as church services and funeral services will continue to be permitted to operate without restrictions, with appropriate social distancing encouraged. The public health restrictions that apply to restaurants, bars, gyms and performance spaces will remain in place.

“It is important for all of us to remain vigilant as we continue to see case numbers increase statewide,” Gordon said in the release. “We are approaching a critical time for our state’s economy. So far, Wyoming has been able to keep our businesses open and our citizens safe. That’s good for our economy and good for the health of our people.”

Over the past 14 days, Wyoming has averaged 37 new lab-confirmed cases of the coronavirus per day, with 523 new cases confirmed since July 12.

From June 28 to July 12, Wyoming averaged 28 new cases per day and there were 385 lab-confirmed cases reported. On Tuesday, the state reported 64 lab-confirmed cases, the highest single-day total since the pandemic began. 

The Department of Health and the governor continue to recommend the use of face coverings in public settings where it is not possible or reasonable to stay physically apart. On Wyoming’s COVID-19 dashboard, the categories of number of new cases and new hospitalizations is rated “Concerning.”

Public health order no. 1 has also been updated to provide more specific guidelines for school operations, including a continuation of the requirement that students wear face coverings in situations where 6 feet of separation can’t be maintained.

The Wyoming Office of Homeland Security, the Wyoming Department of Health and the Wyoming Department of Education have partnered to distribute 500,000 cloth face coverings to school districts around the state.

“As we look towards the fall, we must remember that continued business expansion is a fragile thing and depends on each citizen doing their best to keep our economy flourishing,” Gordon said. “I sincerely thank those Wyoming citizens who are taking action to keep our businesses open by voluntarily wearing a mask when you can’t socially distance.”

As of Tuesday, Wyoming has recorded 2,136 lab-confirmed positive cases of COVID-19, 453 probable cases and 26 deaths. The latest death was attributed to a Uinta County man who died in another state.

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Gordon Reiterates Concern About Coronavirus, Criticizes Lack Of Empathy During News Conference

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon expected to have health orders aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus expire by the end of July, but then a spike in cases in mid-June made him and other state officials reconsider.

Gordon’s comments came during a Wednesday afternoon news conference, where he was joined by State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist as he addressed the issues including the current increase in coronavirus cases in the state.

Gordon noted that the state saw 24 new active cases on Wednesday and commented on the recent coronavirus-related death of a Sweetwater County man, the state’s 22nd death linked to the virus.

But the governor added he’s been receiving nasty emails from residents about the medical conditions or ages of people dying from the virus which he didn’t like or appreciate.

“When someone sends me a note that says, ‘Well, these people are going to die anyway, they’re just going to die sooner,’ I’m offended,” Gordon said. “As an American, most people are going to be offended that people should just get this COVID-19 and get out of the way. I’m sick and tired of that.”

Gordon reiterated that while the state and nation needed to stay open and keep the economy going, residents needed to continue to take precautions, such as wearing face coverings and practicing appropriate social distancing.

On the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, the number of new cases and hospitalizations in the state were listed as “concerning,” but the percentage of coronavirus tests returning a positive result was considered “improved,” although Gordon pointed out that the positive percentage has actually ticked up to 3% and that these reports were “concerning.”

He discussed the extension of the current public health orders, noting that the state was “well on [its] way” to relieving all of them, but now the trends are going upward. Gordon felt this was related to Wyomingites taking a “casual” approach to protecting their fellow citizens.

He also noted the state had seen 700 new laboratory-confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the last month and hospitalizations are also rising. While Wyoming isn’t seeing the spikes in cases and deaths seen in other states, Gordon asked his constituents to help keep Wyoming “safer.”

“There is no constitutional right to go infect somebody else, there is no constitutional right that says you can put others in harm’s way,” the governor said. “Let’s behave and be mindful of our neighbors. That’s the country I grew up in. That’s the neighborhood I grew up in.”

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Gordon: Spending Cuts Of $250 Million Just The Beginning For Wyoming

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Cuts in state spending beyond the $250 million reduction already authorized by Gov. Mark Gordon will be needed going forward, he said Wednesday.

Gordon, speaking during a news conference, said those reductions will involve state employee layoffs and furloughs.

“I am the first governor in quite a while who will actually have to lay off people,” he said. “I know how painful that is. I don’t particularly like it and I particularly don’t like the fact we won’t be able to do the things people have come to count on.”

The state’s top fiscal experts are predicting that between declines in the state’s mineral industries and the economic difficulties created by the coronavirus pandemic, state revenue will fall $1.5 billion short of what had been projected when the Legislature prepared the state budget for the 2021-2022 biennium, which began July 1.

Gordon said the declines in revenue amount to one-third of the money needed to run the state and since he lacks the authority to raise revenue, his only option is to cut spending.

“Simply put, we don’t have enough income,” he said. “We lost roughly a third of what we need to pay our bills. As governor, it is my constitutional duty to balance that budget.”

The cuts announced Monday, about 10% of the state’s total spending, amounted to about one-third of the spending reduction needed, Gordon said, so he ask agencies to look at further spending reductions.He added that the cuts will affect every Wyoming citizen.

“There is no part of the government that isn’t feeling the pain of that 10%,” he said. “There’s no part of the Wyoming citizenry that won’t feel something from this 10%.”

In addition to spending cuts and layoffs, the state will furlough for one day a month some staff members with higher salaries, Gordon said, those making about $65,000 a year.

The governor also took the opportunity to address critics questioning why the state is looking at the possible purchase of 1 million acres of land in southern Wyoming from Occidental Petroleum in the face of falling state income.

Gordon noted the money that would be used for the purchase, if approved by state officials, would come from state investment funds, not money used to pay the state’s bills.

“We’re not using any of the money that would pay for any of these programs, any of these salaries or any support for cities, towns or counties,” he said. “These monies are fully within our investment portfolio.”

If the purchase is approved, it will only be because the land will generate returns for the state, he added.

“We’re not taking any crazy bets and we’re not going out on any limb,” he said. “We’re making sure Wyoming will have the absolute best returns for the most safe investments it can have.”

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Gordon Approves $250M In Budget Cuts, $600M To Go

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon has approved a number of cuts to state agency budgets totaling more than $250 million, nearly 10% of the budget for the state’s main bank account.

The cuts, announced in a news release Monday, were necessitated by projections that the state’s revenues in the coming two years would face a shortfall of almost $1 billion for the “general fund” and another $500 million for school funding.

Budget reductions will include state employees losing jobs, mandatory furloughs, a reduction in major maintenance spending and the consolidation of human resources personnel across state agencies, Gordon said.

“This is an incredibly difficult task but we must respond to the financial circumstances the state is facing,” Gordon said in the release. “These cuts will impact families across the state, will affect the services we provide and will have an effect on dollars that flow into the private sector.”

Gordon approved 10% cuts for most state agencies, boards and commissions. The Department of Health, which has the state’s largest budget, will see a 9% cut, totaling $90 million.

Gordon stressed the impacts of the budget cuts will be felt outside of state government. These cuts include significant reductions to state government dollars that enter the private sector in the form of contracts and mean that some services available to the state’s seniors, disabled and low-income residents will be reduced or cut entirely.

“The repercussions to our communities and the businesses of our state are significant,” Gordon said. “While they are necessary, these cuts weaken our ability to deliver the critical services and functions of our state government that Wyomingites depend on.”

Gordon has also instituted a mandatory weekly furlough day for a six-month period beginning August. This will apply to executive branch employees with a high pay rate.

The governor also signed an executive order on Friday that instructed the director of the Department of Administration and Information to coordinate the immediate move of all human resources personnel from various departments across the state to the department. The process is expected to take several months and will lead to a reduction in the state’s human resources personnel.

The budget cuts still leave a forecasted budget shortfall of more than $600 million, Gordon said. He has directed agencies to prepare preliminary proposals to cut an additional 10% from their budgets and submit those concepts to him.

Gordon previously stated that he was considering a range of options to fund an appropriate level of government services, since merely cutting services won’t be enough to address the entire shortfall.

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