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Featured: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, addressed area leaders on Monday, October 21, 2019, during the first anniversary celebration of the Texas A&M University Higher Education Center at McAllen, located at 6200 Tres Lagos Boulevard. 

Photograph By NATHANIEL BAEUR

Featured: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, addressed area leaders on Monday, October 21, 2019, during the first-anniversary celebration of the Texas A&M University Higher Education Center at McAllen, located at 6200 Tres Lagos Boulevard. 

Photograph By NATHANIEL BAEUR 

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Sen. Hinojosa donates $5,000 apiece to food banks in Hidalgo and Nueces counties; taxpayers warned of scams in relation to COVID-19 economic payment checks

By LUIS MORENO
 
Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, on Wednesday, April 1, 2020, donated $5,000 apiece to two food banks in his Senatorial District 20, which includes part of Hidalgo County, as well as Nueces County, Jim Wells County, and Brooks County. 
 
After conversations with the executive directors of the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley and the Coastal Bend Food Bank, it was clear that they had the same need, financial support, the South Texas lawmaker said. 
 
The coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has increased the demand for food and it is expected to increase as more individuals are furloughed or laid off. The employees and volunteers of these food banks are working overtime to make sure the pantries they serve are stocked and packing Emergency Food Boxes to help fill the needs of families in our communities. 
 
Donating money to the food banks is the most efficient way to help support those in need. By donating cash, the food banks can convert every $1 to 4 meals. This means more fruits, vegetables, and other foods for not only many of the Seniors in our community who rely on food banks, but also now those that have been impacted by COVID-19. 
 
For this reason, Hinojosa has donated $5,000 to the Coastal Bend Food Bank which, serves 11 counties including Nueces, Brooks, and Jim Wells; and $5,000 to the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, which serves four counties including Hidalgo County, in Hinojosa’s senatorial district. 
 
“As many of our neighbors, family members, and friends are facing unprecedented challenges and financial situations, hunger should not be one of their worries. I admire the many food bank employees and volunteers who are in the front lines working tirelessly to meet increased demand,” Hinojosa said. “I know this donation today will allow them to help feed many families who need our support. We are all in this together and I encourage others who have the means to also donate to our food banks.”
 
How to Apply for Food Assistance 
 
Families in need of food assistance should apply for help online. If you are in the Coastal Bend Region, click here. If you are in the RGV region, click here.  
 
How to Donate 
 
The Food Bank is encouraging residents to donate funds rather than food items to help feed those in need. If you would like to donate to the Food Bank of the RGV click here. To donate to the Coastal Bend Food Bank, click here.  
 
TAXPAYERS WARNED OF SCAMS IN RELATION TO COVID-19 ECONOMIC PAYMENT CHECKS
 
Federal authorities in Houston on Thursday, April 9, 2020, cautioned taxpayers that criminals could steal economic impact payments through various means of deception, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick along with Acting Special Agent in Charge Rodrick Benton of IRS – Criminal Investigation (CI).
 
Everyone receiving a COVID-19 related economic impact payment from the government is at risk.
 
“Disasters create openings for crooks and scam artists,” said Patrick. “From phony door-to-door solicitations to complex computer and phone scams, I want people to be alert. Do not give out personal information to people who claim they are with the government. The scum that take advantage at a time like this will find the weight of federal law enforcement on them.”
 
“While the nation deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, criminals see an opportunity to enrich themselves through fraudulent schemes,” warned Benton. “With the public’s awareness, we can combat these scammers and cease their exploitation of the American taxpayer during these trying times.”
COVID-19 economic impact payment checks will be on their way from the IRS in a matter of weeks. For most Americans, this will be a direct deposit into their bank accounts. Those that did not identify a bank account on their tax returns,  elderly individuals or others who have traditionally received tax refunds via paper check will receive their payments in that manner.
 
Criminals have already begun deceiving taxpayers through unsolicited phone calls, emails, text messages or other communications purporting to be from the IRS in attempts to steal these payments. Authorities warn taxpayers to be vigilant and on alert to this potential fraud.
 
The IRS will deposit your check into the direct deposit account that you previously provided on your tax return (or, in the alternative, send you a paper check).
 
The IRS will NOT CALL and ask you to verify your payment details. Do NOT give out your bank account, debit account or PayPal account information – even if someone claims it’s necessary to get your check. IT’S A SCAM!
 
If you receive a call, do NOT engage with scammers or thieves, even if you want to tell them that you know it’s a scam or you think that you can beat them. Just HANG UP.
 
If you receive texts or emails claiming you can get your money faster by sending personal information or clicking on links, DELETE them. Do NOT click on any links in those emails or texts.
 
Bogus checks are also being distributed. If you receive a “check” in the mail now, IT’S A FRAUD – it will take the Department of Treasury a few weeks to mail the legitimate checks to taxpayers. If you receive a “check” for an odd amount (especially one with cents), a check that requires that you verify the check online or by calling a number, IT’S A FRAUD.
 
For more information about coronavirus tax relief and economic impact payments, visit the IRS website.
 
For more information about coronavirus fraud overall and related details, go to the DOJ website.
 
TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY – HOW COVID-19 CAN THREATEN OLDER ADULTS
 
People aged 65 or older are considered at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
 
Experts in the Texas A&M University College of Education & Human Development’s Center for Translational Research in Aging and Longevity in the Department of Health and Kinesiology, Dr. Nicolaas Deutz and Marielle Engelen, on Wednesday, April 8, 2020, offer answers and recommendations for older adults during the current pandemic.
 
“Older adults naturally often have accompanying chronic diseases or conditions such as pre-diabetes, obesity, atherosclerosis or even more severe diseases like cancer, chronic heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” Deutz said.
 
When older adults with underlying conditions also experience malnutrition, it affects their immune system negatively. Deutz said malnutrition is common when older adults experience disease and it is important to identify malnourishment in these patients.
 
“As older adults with an already activated immune system cannot handle the additional burden of the coronavirus, they are at higher risk of deteriorating health and even dying,” Deutz said.
 
Engelen advises older adults to increase daily intake of vitamins, minerals and protein through diet. 
 
Foods like nonfat plain Greek yogurt are ideal for older adults because they are easy to eat and contain a substantial amount of protein.
 
“When it is not possible to meet these needs with regular food intake, people should start taking nutritional supplements,” Engelen said.
 
Protection against COVID-19 is based on reducing or prohibiting contact with infected people and surfaces they have touched. Deutz said this is especially important for older adults because of their increased risk of prolonged illness or dying.
 
In addition to self-quarantining, he advises older adults to maintain activity levels to boost overall health, increasing their ability to fight the virus.
 
“There is a lot of research available that shows when people are active and perform activities throughout the day and maintain a healthy, nutritious diet, they will remain in a good condition that can better cope with infections like the coronavirus,” Deutz said.
 
It is easy to live a sedentary lifestyle when stuck at home. Engelen said this can be detrimental for older adults who need to maintain muscle mass and decrease fat through physical activity to positively impact their immune system.
 
“Regular physical activity at home like walking around the house, stair climbing, stand-to-sit and sit-to-stand from a chair, chair squats, sit-ups, pushups and gardening will have a positive effect on the immune system,” Engelen said.
 
Deutz and Engelen also encourage older adults to utilize health apps and seek exercise videos to maintain fitness at home.
 
MORE HEALTH-RELATED LICENSING REGULATIONS WAIVED FOR COVID-19 RESPONSE
 
On Sunday, April 5, 2020, Gov. Greg Abbott announced more temporary waivers of regulations on health-related professional licenses to support Texas’ response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to the House Research Organization.
 
The House Research Organization is the nonpartisan research arm of the Texas House of Representatives. It provides to state lawmakers and to the public daily reports on each major piece of legislation, with detailed background on the history and intent of those bills, and who supports and opposes those measures.
 
Emergency licenses. The most recent waiver allows physician assistant (PA), medical physicist, perfusionist, and respiratory care license candidates to obtain emergency medical licenses to work under supervision before passing their final licensing examinations. The waiver also allows name-based background checks, rather than fingerprint checks, for emergency licensees. After the state of disaster declared by the governor on Friday, March 13, 2020, ends or the emergency license is terminated by the appropriate authority, pending license applicants will return to applicant status.
 
To support the rapid deployment of health workers in response to COVID-19, the governor’s Sunday, April 5, 2020 order also allows physicians to establish oral, rather than written, prescriptive agreements with the PAs and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) they supervise and lifts the requirement to register such agreements with the Texas Medical Board (TMB). A prescriptive authority agreement allows PAs and APRNs to prescribe or order a drug or medical device under physician supervision.
 
On Tuesday, April 7, 2020, Abbott issued a temporary waiver allowing pharmacy technicians, rather than only pharmacists, to receive oral prescription drug orders and transfer or receive a transfer of original prescription information on behalf of a patient.
 
License extensions. The Texas Medical Board announced it will automatically extend the expiration dates of licenses and permits and waive continuing education requirements for certain physicians, PAs, surgical assistants, medical physicists, medical radiologic technologists, perfusionists, respiratory care practitioners, and individuals on the Non-Certified Radiologic Technician Registry. These extensions are in place until Monday, August 31, 2020.
 
Retired health professionals. The Texas Medical Board also has expanded on its earlier call for recently retired physicians to come out of retirement to assist the state’s response to COVID-19 by encouraging retired medical radiologic technologistsrespiratory care practitioners, and PAs whose licenses have been on official retired status for less than four years to apply for a return to active status.

Previous waivers. In the past month, the governor ordered the Texas Medical Board and the Texas Board of Nursing (TBN) to expedite temporary emergency medical licenses for out-of-state physicians, PAs, and other relevant medical personnel. Previous waivers also granted a six-month grace period for nurses with expired licenses, allowed TBN to issue temporary permits to practice for graduate nurses and graduate vocational nurses who have yet to take the licensing exams, and allowed APRNs with expired licenses to reactivate their licenses without paying fees or completing continuing education or current practice requirements. Additional waivers announced on March 20 and April 2 granted extensions for certain pharmacy licenses and allowed certain EMS personnel who are qualified but lack formal certification to provide critical emergency services.

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Heather Gillin and Andrew McNair contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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