/ Modified aug 12, 2020 4:22 p.m.

News roundup: Drop in unemployment payments, Senate race tightens

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, Aug. 12.

Arizona COVID-19 one-week snapshot, Dec. 3

Since last week, Arizona reported 32,095 new cases (10% increase), 253 more deaths (4% increase) and a statewide positive test rate of 24.1%. The state reported a daily average of 4,585 cases and 36 deaths. Choose a Layerlayer and click on a county to learn more.

Credit: Nick O'Gara/AZPM. Sources: ADHS, county health departments, Census 2018 Quick Facts. *Test numbers are totals including diagnostic and serology tests. Positive test rate is calculated using reported case and test totals (official rates may differ based on reporting lags). Daily reports may not reflect the most recent data, the state says.

Cases 189,443 | Deaths 4,347 | Diagnostic tests 1,042,838

On Wednesday, Aug. 12, Arizona reported 706 new cases of COVID-19 and 148 additional deaths. Hospital intensive care unit and ventilator usage continues to trend generally downward in the state since its peak in the first half of July.

Arizona unemployment payments see large drop


Arizona unemployment payments dropped by $250 million last week after Congress failed to pass an extension of a $600 additional weekly payment for people on unemployment.

Arizona’s total unemployment payment last week was $142 million, the lowest since the week of April 11, when the federal payment began.

Arizona’s maximum unemployment payment is $240. Gov. Doug Ducey said it is up to Congress to deal with additional payments.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Saturday extending the enhanced payment. The order reduced the payment from $600 to $400. States are responsible for paying $100 of that new extension.

See an interactive graph of unemployment benefits here.

Gap in US Senate race narrows


In May, Democrat Mark Kelly lead Republican Martha McSally in the U.S. Senate race by 13 points, but a new poll from OH Predictive Insights says that gap has now narrowed to 5 points.

Even though the distance between the candidates is closing, McSally has not picked up support. The poll puts her support at 43%, the same as last month. Kelly supporters, though, are moving into the undecided category. Much of that voter shift comes from independent voters according to the poll.

In the presidential race, OH Predictive released a poll earlier in the week that showed President Donald Trump trailing the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in Arizona by 5 points. The polls have a 4-point margin of error.

Child care centers outside of Tucson eligible for Pima County grants


Linda Kubiak, the director of community programs for the Vail School District, knows the recommendations to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in child care centers. She said they're abiding by them but decreasing class sizes doesn't alleviate the hardship of lost revenue.

That's where she's hoping Pima County's new grant program for child care centers outside of the city of Tucson will step in. The county has $2 million in CARES Act money it's hoping to award to child care centers that have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Centers that think they meet the qualifications can start applying Friday till Aug. 28.

Learn more here.

Border wall groundwater pumping threatens to push endangered species to 'brink of extinction'


For months, wildlife officials have been concerned groundwater pumping for new border wall construction at the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge east of Douglas is threatening the area's natural artesian springs. Evidence of that concern came to light this week through documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act by a conservation group.

The San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge is home to several endangered and threatened species including the Yaqui chub, Yaqui catfish, and Yaqui topminnow, as well as the Chiricahua leopard frog and Mexican garter snake. The refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Natural groundwater springs feed ponds and wetlands that sustain those animals. The area is part of President Trump's new border wall, and contractors have been installing 30-foot high steel bollards along the border for months, pumping local groundwater to make cement.

Learn more here.

Bureau of Indian Education schools fall short of benchmarks set by federal government

Fronteras Desk

The Bureau of Indian Education has a long and troubled history educating about 46,000 Native American students around the country.

A [new investigation] by the Arizona Republic and ProPublica shows its more than 180 schools have chronically failed to meet benchmarks set by the federal government that every other public school in the country is held to.

Read the original report at Propublica.org.

LGBTQ groups pressure Sonoran congress on marriage equality

Fronteras Desk

A coalition of LGBTQ groups is pressuring the Sonoran congress to take action on marriage equality reform.

Community representatives delivered a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday that said the state’s current prohibition of same-sex marriages is unconstitutional and violates human rights. Sonoran law defines marriage as the “legitimate union” of a man and woman, and declares same-sex marriages “legally impossible.”

In 2015, Mexico’s Supreme Court Ruled that laws like Sonora’s are unconstitutional. But Sonora is one of a number of states where legislatures have not reformed their civil or family codes to reflect that ruling. A reform measure has languished in the state congress for over a year, and has yet to be discussed in relevant committees.

Judge orders changes to explanation of education tax measure


GLENDALE — A judge has ordered changes to the description of a proposed tax increase on the wealthy designed to fund education that will be sent to voters if the initiative makes the November ballot. The order came after another judge blocked the Invest in Education Act from the ballot because of what he said was a misleading 100-word summary seen by more than 400,000 people who signed qualifying petitions. That ruling is being appealed to the state Supreme Court.

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that If the high court resurrects the initiative, language adopted by majority Republican members of the Legislative Council must be modified.

Learn more here.

A few Arizona districts moving to start in-person learning


PHOENIX — A few Arizona school districts are moving to begin in-person learning next Monday over the objections of some teachers. Some parents and students are cheering the decision.

The board of the Queen Creek Unified School District outside Phoenix voted on Tuesday to resume in-person learning. The J.O. Combs Unified School District in nearby San Tan Valley voted Monday to begin offering in-person instruction. Both districts said they would continue to provide online learning.

Educators had asked the Queen Creek board to stick with education online until Maricopa County met public health benchmarks included in voluntary guidelines issued by the state last week.

Learn more here.

Sierra Vista police: Suspect arrested in June arson case


SIERRA VISTA — Police in Sierra Vista say they have made an arrest in an arson case. They say 30-year-old Sierra Vista resident Kevin Suarez was booked into a Bisbee jail Tuesday on suspicion of one count of arson and one count of criminal damage. Suarez already was in the Cochise County Jail on unrelated charges.

Police have been investigating a June 23 fire in the Cloud 9 Mobile Home Park that completely destroyed one residence. Detectives didn’t immediately say how Suarez was linked to the arson case.

Learn more here.

Tribe says new border wall harming burial sites; sues Trump


SAN DIEGO — A California tribe whose ancestral lands span across the U.S.-Mexico border is suing the Trump administration to block construction of a section of border wall that the Kumeyaay people say is desecrating sacred burial sites.

The La Posta Band of Diegueno Mission Indians filed the lawsuit in federal court in San Diego on Tuesday seeking to temporarily halt construction of the wall until the tribe can protect its religious and cultural heritage. La Posta is one of 12 bands of the Kumeyaay people. The tribe wants its members to be able to monitor work and interrupt it to recover human remains and cultural items uncovered during construction.

Federal officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Learn more here.

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