Steve Clark

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Steve Clark is a staff writer with the Brownsville Herald. He can be reached at sclark@brownsvilleherald.com

Disabled vets, SSI recipients must request child payments by May 5

Some veterans and disabled Americans have only until May 5 to request $500 child payments from the IRS as provided for by the CARES Act emergency relief package, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela. The IRS has set a deadline of May 5 for veterans who receive compensation for service-related disabilities, or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients who don’t file annual tax returns. SSI recipients and disabled veterans are eligible for Economic Impact Payments (EIP) of $1,200, and also payments of $500 for each dependent child 17 and younger. Because the IRS does not have information on the dependents of these eligible disabled veterans and SSI recipients, however, they must request the child payments through an online portal at irs.gov by May 5, according to Vela’s office. Read the full story at themonitor.com.

SpaceX Starship reaches milestone

SpaceX achieved an important milestone over the weekend with successful pressure tests of its Starship SN4 prototype at Boca Chica, clearing the way for an engine static-fire and, perhaps soon, a low-altitude test flight. Late on April 26, the company’s CEO, Elon Musk, posted a brief Twitter video from a vantage point beneath the SN4 as the towering cylinder shed ice crystals following a successful cryogenic pressurization test meant to simulate the extremely cold fuel conditions that Starship would endure in space. “Snowing in Texas,” was Musk’s caption. Read the full story at themonitor.com.

SpaceX Starship development proceeding

While everybody has been preoccupied with coronavirus the past several weeks, SpaceX’s Boca Chica operation has been aggressively pursuing development of the Starship spacecraft intended to take humans to the Moon and Mars. But there’s still a lot of work to be done to get there. Elon Musk, the company’s founder and CEO, tweeted on April 17: “Good progress, but 18 years to launch our first humans is a long time. Technology must advance faster or there will be no city on the red planet in our lifetime.” Boca Chica has become the locus of the company’s Starship accelerated build/test program, which has experienced failures as well as successes over the past several months. Starship Mk1, the earliest full-size prototype, was irreparably damaged in November during a cryogenic fuel pressurization test. The next prototype, SN1, met a similar fate on Feb. 28, dashing plans for a sub-orbital test flight this spring, though SpaceX’s Boca Chica team was already building SN2. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Beaches, parks are open again; COVID-19 restrictions remain place however

As of 12:01 a.m. Saturday, Cameron County parks, beaches and boat ramps are open again, though with restrictions. County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. announced the easing of restrictions, which were implemented weeks ago to slow the spread of COVID-19, at a press conference on Friday. He said the reopening of beaches is being done in coordination with the mayor and city council of South Padre Island. Parking lots at pedestrian-only beach parks such as Isla Blanca or E.K. Atwood will be limited to 50 percent capacity, while drive-on beaches will require at least 20 feet between vehicles, Treviño said. Social distancing must be practiced and everyone at the beach must wear a mask or facial covering, though they are not required in the water, he said. Watercraft for fishing may have a maximum of two occupants, or four occupants if members of the same household, and everyone has to wear a mask or facial covering. Charter fishing boats 18 feet or smaller may contain a guide and one client. Boats 22-26 feet in length may contain a guide and two clients. Treviño noted that the rules for boats between 18 and 22 feet need clarification. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Social-distancing mandates violated during Easter

Facebook was full of them: photos of families getting together, hiding eggs, cooking on the grill and otherwise enjoying themselves just like it was a normal Easter Sunday. Except there was nothing normal about it, and with the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Cameron County up to 195 as of press time, County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. took time during a Monday afternoon press conference to admonish residents who thought it would be OK to take a day off from the shelter-in-place and social distancing measures the county has imposed to slow the spread of the deadly virus that has so far claimed five lives in the Rio Grande Valley, 271 in the state and more than 23,000 nationwide. Noting the range of effects of the virus among different people, from zero symptoms to severe illness or death, Treviño said residents who ignored the county’s plea to continue sheltering in place and social distancing through the weekend were nevertheless gambling with the health and safety of their family members, since individuals with no symptoms can still be COVID-19 carriers. Read the full story at themonitor.com.

The Virus Hunter: World-renowned local expert discusses COVID-19 threat

Joseph B. McCormick M.D., an epidemiologist, founder of the UT School of Public Health in Brownsville and one of the world’s top experts on terrifying diseases such as the Ebola virus and Lassa fever, says COVID-19 is about as bad as anything he’s ever encountered. McCormick, who started the school of public health 20 years ago and stepped down as regional dean in late 2018, served as chief of the Special Pathogens Branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1981 to 1990 and, with his wife, fellow epidemiologist Susan Fisher-Hoch, authored “Level 4: Virus Hunters of the CDC,” originally published in 1996. “It’s right up there with the worst that we’ve seen in the sense that even modern medicine is struggling to keep up with it,” he said. “That’s saying something.” Read the full story at themonitor.com.

Plastics firm donates thousands of face shields

Amid a nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the doctors, nurses and other health care professionals on the front line of the fight against COVID-19, a Brownsville manufacturer has stepped into the breach, donating large quantities of clear plastic face shields to local hospitals and, in the process, stumbling across a new business opportunity at a time normal regular business has plummeted due to the economic fallout from the pandemic. Vicente Sanchez, director of Portage Plastics plant in Brownsville, said the company saw the need for PPE rising as its usual business dwindled. With corporate headquarters in Portage, Wis., the company manufactures thermoformed plastic products for the food and restaurant, medical, and aftermarket automotive industries, with the Brownsville plant focused mainly on automotive. Sanchez said the plant, which has about 40 employees, had a large quantity of leftover polyethylene sheet laying around, the engineer turned out some prototypes and workers started cutting face shields. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Many families excluded from benefits

A provision of the $2 trillion CARES Act economic relief package signed into law March 27 sets aside $250 billion for direct payments to individuals and families to help soften the blow of lost income and economic upheaval caused by COVID-19. The IRS announced that checks, up to $1,200 per individual or $2,400 per married couple, plus $500-per-child payments for eligible households, may start going out as early as April 9, though some Americans won’t get theirs until September, a source of much criticism considering relief is badly needed now. Moreover, a significant portion of the populations of Brownsville, the Rio Grande Valley and Texas are unlikely to receive any financial assistance through the CARES Act — even residents who pay federal taxes. U.S. residents with Social Security Numbers and an adjusted gross income up to $75,000 will receive the full $1,200, though individuals earning up to $99,000, or $136,500 for head-of-household filers, will receive a lesser amount. Otherwise, individuals making more than $99,000 will not receive relief checks. Married couples without children and with a combined income below $150,000 will receive $2,400, while couples making up to $198,000 in combined income will receive less. Read the full story at themonitor.com

Cameron County orders ‘shelter-in-place’ rule

The shelter-in-place recommendation announced by Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. last week is now mandatory, lasting for 14 days beginning midnight Tuesday. Treviño said at a Monday press conference that the more stringent step is important to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 in the county, which as of press time had six confirmed cases of the potentially deadly virus. The county continues to identify other people the infected individuals had contact with, determine signs of COVID-19 symptoms, and secure testing when warranted, he said. Treviño called for an end to social media attacks on county residents who have presented themselves for testing. Read the full story at themonitor.com.

Workforce commission responds to coronavirus impact

At the direction of Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas Workforce Commission has temporarily dispensed with the “waiting week” and work requirements normally involved in accessing unemployment insurance benefits through the state. The move was made in response to the coronavirus public health emergency and the many workers who have lost income as a result. The waiting week is the first payable week of an applicant’s claim. TWC usually doesn’t pay it until applicants receive twice their normal weekly benefit amount, and either return to full-time work or exhaust their benefits. The purpose of doing away with the waiting week temporarily is to provide relief faster to Texans who need it, according to TWC. Read the full story at themonitor.com