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Indiana workforce department granting expanded unemployment coverage due to COVID-19 outbreak

During the coronavirus pandemic crisis, The La Porte County Herald-Argus has dropped the paywall for virus-related stories. If you appreciate local journalism, please help us continue to keep La Porte County informed by considering a subscription to the La Porte County Herald-Argus. Learn more here.INDIANAPOLIS — With the COVID-19 outbreak costing a growing number of Hoosiers their jobs – including hundreds in La Porte County – the Indiana Department of Workforce Development is calling “all-hands-on-deck” to help get the unemployed the benefits they need to get through the sudden economic downturn.

In response to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s executive order last week granting the agency additional leeway in handling unemployment claims due to the ongoing public health crisis, the DWD has issued new guidance for residents who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The department has expanded its unemployment benefit eligibility to include the following:

Workers whose employers have laid them off due to the COVID-19 outbreak. To receive benefits, employees must have earned enough wages to set up a claim, must stay in contact with their employer and must be available to work when called back by their employer.

Employees whose employer or doctor has directed them to quarantine due to the coronavirus. Claimants must have earned enough wages to file, and must not be receiving sick pay or paid leave from their employer.

Parents who have stopped working to take care of their children while their school or daycare is closed due to the COVID-19 crisis. Claimants must have earned enough wages to file, and must not be receiving sick pay or paid leave from their employer.

Employees who have had their hours cut. Part-time workers will earn a reduced amount of benefits and must report weekly the amount of money they received at work.

Employees who have chosen to self-quarantine with no directive from their employer or a medical professional to do so will generally be ineligible for benefits. The DWD still encourages these individuals to file a claim for evaluation, however.

With the DWD’s WorkOne Centers closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the agency is asking residents to file unemployment claims online, at in.gov/dwd/2362.htm. Those with questions are asked to call the benefit call center at (800) 891-6499, though, due to the extremely high call volume, waits will be longer than usual.

The DWD has seen a massive surge in unemployment claims over the past two weeks, as restaurants, bars, event centers and other hospitality and service businesses have closed or severely reduced operations to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

“For the week ending March 21, there were 53,608 claims filed, compared with just 2,312 the previous week, which illustrates just how large the increase in claims has been in such a short period of time,” said DWD spokesman Scott Olson via email Thursday.

“To help process the surge of unemployment claims, DWD has pulled staff members from various departments to offer assistance; an all-hands-on-deck approach, if you will.”

In La Porte County, 977 residents filed new claims last week – up from just 61 the previous week.

To further help unemployed Hoosiers during this unprecedented public health and economic emergency, DWD Commissioner Fred Payne announced during a press conference Thursday that Gov. Holcomb has waived the one week between when applicants file their claim and when they can begin receiving benefits. Claimants should still expect to wait 21 days before they receive their first payment, however, he said.

The agency is also ready to out the expanded unemployment coverage called for in the proposed $2 trillion federal stimulus bill, which the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on this Friday.

The legislation, if passed, will allow for independent contractors, self-employed individuals, and those with limited work experience to apply for benefits. The bill would also require states to grant an additional 13 weeks of benefits to claimants, on top of the 26 weeks of coverage they are currently allowed to receive.

For additional information on eligibility requirements and how to file a claim, residents can read the DWD’s updated unemployment FAQ at in.gov/dwd/files/Indiana_Unemployment _FAQ.pdf.


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On the hunt for a Hollywood icon
PNW researchers to visit L.A. in search of info on MC’s Anita King

WESTVILLE — Many knew actress Anita King from her supporting roles in some 19 films during the silent era.

But in print this Michigan City native was more famous for her skills behind the wheel.

During her life, newspapers credited King with being the first woman to drive across the U.S. from California to New York City, for taking part in automobile competitions across the country, and for performing vehicular stunts on the silver screen.

Yet, for a pair of researchers at Purdue University Northwest, her work establishing a series of safe houses for up-and-coming starlets might be the most interesting – and most pertinent to the film industry today. They now plan to travel to L.A. to uncover more about King’s life, and to see whether those safe houses might have been established to obfuscate the intentions of certain predatory individuals in the movie business.

The two are just looking to the community for some more help.

PNW junior Kayla Vasilko and PNW professor Jerry Holt said they’ve already opened up quite a few new doors into King’s life.

“The most recent one (we opened) took us to Hollywood and the silent movie days when Anita King was instrumental in finding shelters, halfway houses and the YWCA for young women who got to Hollywood and found that it was not going to be a dream come true,” Holt said. “And that opened another door because it now appears Anita King may have been censored, at least to a degree, by studio heads that didn’t want to see these young women with another place to turn besides themselves. This was almost Harvey Weinstein territory here.”

According to information provided by Vasilko and Holt, King was born Aug. 14, 1884, in Michigan City, to a life of poverty. Her father committed suicide and her mother died of tuberculosis by the time she turned 14. Helping take care of her siblings, one of King’s early jobs included working as a maid at Barker Mansion. She eventually moved to Chicago where she began modeling and acting on stage. Following the advice of famed actress Lillian Russell, she moved to Hollywood in 1908.

Her career, however, took off when, in 1915, newspapers hailed her as the first woman to drive alone across the continental U.S., from California to New York, making it in 49 days with only a rifle and six shooter as her companions. King retired in 1919, and started breeding racehorses and establishing a series of safe houses for women trying to reach their dream in L.A.

“At that time, there was a lot of doubt of what a woman could do, but she had no doubt,” Vasilko said. “She persevered against a lot of difficult odds. She lost her parents when she was young. She had to try her best to support herself and her siblings from a very young age. She followed her dreams and went to Hollywood, and among everything else, was the first woman to drive across the U.S. For a young woman like myself, who’s trying to follow her dream and be a writer, to hear stories like that is really inspiring.”

The pair have already attained a grant from the Michigan City Commission for Women, and funding from other sources, to cover the research trip to L.A.

Vasilko said their goals include:

Assembling a more complete lit-review and collection of articles and maps on King’s life

Traveling to L.A. to uncover information and artifacts from the vault, visit King’s gravesite and explore the beginnings of the route she took for her now famous drive.

Bringing uncovered artifacts back for display in Michigan City.

Writing a complete narrative of King’s life and making a presentation during Days of Discover.

Adapting the narrative of her life into a play, to be produced and performed in Michigan City.

Placing a plaque in Michigan City recognizing King’s life.

“As you know, Hollywood has taken pretty good care of its history,” Holt said. “And there’s a number of archives and collections, particularly at UCLA, that would be heaven for any film nut to spend time in.”

Vasilko said they are still looking to the community for help funding the planned play, and for organizations and places to host the exhibit and play when they’re ready.

“We’ve been in contact with her great niece, Lucianne Boardman,” Vasilko said. “Lucianne on the 100th anniversary of Anita’s famous drive, actually, in honor of her aunt, made the same drive from California to New York on the same road, so she is very dedicated also to Anita King’s history.”

Vasilko said she first learned about King last October when Holt spoke about the silent film star during the Support Thanks Appreciation Remembrance (STAR) Walk at Purdue University Northwest.

Inspired by King’s story, and surprised she never heard about her before, Vasilko decided to start a project educating the community about her. To this end, she began collaborating with Holt, who has connections in the entertainment industry and its records.

“And you don’t know how far those kinds of roads can take you,” Holt said, “but you sure do want to look. Suppose we could bring back for Michigan City … a dress or costume she wore on screen? Maybe the clothes she wore when she went on the road? A personal copy of a script? There are so many things that allow you to touch a life.”

Holt said most sources claim King retired in 1919 because she didn’t have a good voice and talkies were expected to take over the industry.

“But we really are wondering now if that was just a kind of cover story and whether King was not instead the victim of a black list,” Holt said. “… An unofficial one because said she is helping these young women, and that angered studio heads and so they’re not giving her work. That’s the kind of thing that’s going to take some research.”

Holt said he hopes this researches changes the view many have of the area.

“From my standpoint,” Holt said, “I ask my freshmen students every term, what’s important about this area? And again and again and again, they will say ‘nothing,” and that’s not right. That must change because history happened here. Living breathing people who were as dramatic and flamboyant and as fascinating as anybody anyplace, and they’re ours and we need to tell their stories better.”

Vasilko said those interested in helping out can contact her by email at kvasilko@pnw.edu.


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Virtual services planned for Holy Week
NWI Catholics prepare for holiest time of year with church parishes closed

During the coronavirus pandemic crisis, The La Porte County Herald-Argus has dropped the paywall for virus-related stories. If you appreciate local journalism, please help us continue to keep La Porte County informed by considering a subscription to the La Porte County Herald-Argus. Learn more here.

MERRILLVILLE — Northwest Indiana Catholic officials are preparing for the “holiest week of the year” with parishes closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Most Reverend Robert J. McClory, Bishop of Gary, sent a letter to parishioners on Thursday explaining the Church’s plans for celebrating the Easter season during “these challenging times.”

McClory said he has been consulting with the Diocese of Gary COVID-19 Task Force, the College of Consultors (comprised of deans and pastors), various work groups, and members of the faithful “as we do our best to respond pastorally and practically” to the pandemic.

“The situation sometimes changes by the hour as we receive and incorporate new directives guided by civil authorities, public health officials, the Holy See, and the USCCB,” the bishop said.

Calling the situation fluid, he said “it is clear current limitations will remain in effect for Holy Week.” That means Masses will continue to be offered only privately (and live streamed) until sometime after Easter.

“This is not easy news to absorb, nor is it easy for me to share,” McClory said. “Holy Week is the high point of our year and this is an incredible sacrifice we are making for the health and wellbeing of all – and for the common good.”

The bishop said he was impressed that “so many of the faithful have come together to assist pastors so that during this time of private celebration of liturgies, many parishes have been able to offer the faithful opportunities to participate remotely through the live streaming of Masses.”

He said he was grateful to have these technologies in place for use during Holy Week.

The Chrism Mass will be offered privately and live streamed from the Cathedral on Monday, April 6 at 11:00 a.m.

“This is a special celebration which includes the blessing of the holy oils and normally involves the participation of all the priests and parishes of the diocese,” the bishop said.

This year, four priests, one from each deanery (region) of the diocese, will concelebrate the Mass with the Bishop. Others will participate remotely and renew their vows, which is part of this special liturgy.

The bishop’s Sunday Mass and Holy Week liturgies will be livestreamed through the diocesan website (dcgary.org). Catholics are encouraged to check with their local parish or the diocesan website for the latest information and additional resources.

“We’re in this together,” McClory said. “I invite everyone to join in a moment of daily prayer. Our church bells will ring at noon and 6 p.m. I propose we recite two simple prayers: ‘Jesus I trust in you’ and ‘Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.’ Set your cell phones or alarms to remind you. Let’s pray together!”

He also offered encouragement for area Catholics.

“We are in uncharted territory, but we are in this together. Let us entrust ourselves to Jesus through the hands of Our Lady of Lourdes,” the bishop said.

“Let us pray for her continued intercession during these days, for healing and comfort to those who are suffering. We call upon the Holy Angels to give consolation and protection.”

– From staff reports


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Indiana reports 7 more deaths from COVID-19

During the coronavirus pandemic crisis, The La Porte County Herald-Argus has dropped the paywall for virus-related stories. If you appreciate local journalism, please help us continue to keep La Porte County informed by considering a subscription. Learn more here.

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s coronavirus cases surged by more than 300 to nearly 1,000 statewide Friday, and seven more deaths were reported, bringing the state’s death toll to 24, state health officials said.

Indiana’s number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, grew by 338 to 981 across the state, following corrections to the previous day’s total, the Indiana State Department of Health said.

That total includes 2 confirmed cases in La Porte County; 6 in Porter County (though the Porter County Health Department reports 9); 27 in St. Joseph County; 47 in Lake County; 4 each in Marshall and Jasper Counties; and 1 in Starke County, according to ISDH.

The Berrien County (Michigan) Health Department reports 18 confirmed cases. Of those, three patients were said to be recovered from the illness.

The Indiana death toll includes one each in St. Joseph and Jasper counties.

Nearly 7,000 people statewide have been tested for the coronavirus, officials said, citing test results reported to the state agency, which also released its first demographic data on Indiana’s confirmed coronavirus cases.

That data shows that slightly more females than males have been infected: 52 percent of the cases are women. About 56 percent of infections are among people aged 50 and older, and about 38 percent are among people age 60 and older – the age group most at risk of having a severe infection.

State health officials have said they are targeting tests for those most at risk and health care workers.

Coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

The data includes no information about how many of Indiana’s health care workers have been infected by the coronavirus. The department also released no demographic information about Indiana’s COVID-19 fatalities, which stood at 24 as of Friday.

At his daily briefing on Friday, Holcomb also announced that offenders at the Miami Correctional Facility are producing face masks, personal protection gowns, face shields and hand sanitizer to be used in the fight against COVID-19.

“I’m pleased to have the Department of Correction joining the ranks of Hoosier businesses, large and small, stepping forward in the fight against COVID-19. Production of these items will lessen the strain on the supply chain, leaving more of these products available for Hoosiers,” he said.

After the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the state, the Department of Correction changed the mission of Indiana Correctional Industry’s production lines at Miami from offender uniforms to protective equipment. This week, ICI stood up two production lines that are producing 200 protection gowns and 200 masks per day.

Holcomb also outlined additional efforts from INDOT and the National Guard:

Traffic on state roads, highways and interstates is down significantly as a result of Hoosiers honoring the Stay-At-Home Order.

To speed up deliveries to retailers, commercial trucks hauling products essential to COVID-19 response are eligible for an emergency overweight vehicle permit. This permit will allow trucks to operate at 90,000 pounds gross vehicle weight rather than 80,000 pounds through at least April 13.

Highway maintenance is ongoing, and construction season will begin on time.

The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, in partnership with the state’s food banks, has developed a statewide, interactive map that will help Hoosiers seeking food assistance find what they need. It’s available at in.gov/fssa/dfr/5768.htm

The Indiana National Guard is being deployed to six food banks across the state, including Merrillville, to help sort and pack food for distribution to food pantries. The Guard will also work at mobile food distribution sites across the state.