Pearls of Wisdom from ‘Ganny’
Matriarchs tend to be formidable, but if there were ever a mother of all matriarchs, it would have to be Barbara Bush. The late First Lady had opinions and advice, and she wasn’t afraid to share them with her friends, staff — and most especially — her extended family.
And now, despite having passed away two years ago at age 92, Bush dispenses her insights to the world via a book published in March, “Pearls of Wisdom,” subtitled “Little Pieces of Advice (That Go a Long Way).”
It’s not that much of a miracle; the book was compiled by Jean Becker, a former journalist who worked for the Bush family for three decades and readily called her former boss the “B” word — “bossy.”
“Barbara Bush was perhaps one of the bossiest people who ever lived. And I say that in a loving way,” said Becker, who was supposed to have a reading at Tallahassee’s Midtown Reader bookstore Thursday evening with Gov. Jeb Bush, but instead appeared via Zoom earlier in the day with two of Barbara Bush’s 30-something grandsons, Jeb Bush Jr. and Pierce Bush (the son of Neil Bush).
“We all learned so much from her, but her whole life is already in this book because it is a collection of … her prose, wisdom, all the advice that she gave out over the years. It’s her voice that you’re going to hear in this book when you read it,” Becker shared.
The virtual meetup included a short video showing snippets of Bush sharing that advice in different speaking engagements. They included: “Try to find the good in people and not the bad. Isn’t it better to make a friend than an enemy? Do not buy what you cannot afford. Don’t try to live up to your neighbors, and be sure you pay people back. Remember, loyalty is a two-way street. Love your children. Don’t worry that your children never listen to you; worry that they’re always watching. Those human connections with spouses, with children, with friends, are the most important investment you will ever make.”
“Jebbie” and Pierce both shared memories of the extended amounts of time they spent with their grandparents, who they called “Ganny” and “Gampy.” And some of those reminisces were of an all-seeing taskmistress who called the two boys “the screamers.”
“We had a lot of fun, but we also would get into trouble from time to time,” said Jeb Jr. “My grandfather was kind of a softy, but you knew Barbara Bush was going to step in and do the discipline and put us in line.”
Jeb Bush has a family of his own now and is leading businesses and serving on nonprofit boards, including the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. “I wasn’t the best student. I wasn’t very disciplined,” he admitted. For him and all the other grandchildren, “she would get in your face and sit you down and say, ‘Jeb, have you done your summer reading? If not, you’re not going anywhere’.”
Midtown Reader owner — and longtime associate of the Bush family — Sally Bradshaw asked the group what they thought Barbara Bush would make of the coronavirus pandemic that has upended life in the United States.
“She would be very empathetic with people whose lives have truly been affected — who’ve been sick, who have lost loved ones who have lost their jobs or struggling financially. She would be worried about them and feel a lot of empathy,” Becker said. “She did not like whining people. People who (complain they) can’t get their hair cut, can’t get their nails done, or they’re sick of sitting and … watching Netflix, she would have absolutely none of that.”
Pierce Bush, who is coming off an unsuccessful run in the Republican primary for a Texas congressional district, continues as CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star.
“I hear her voice every single day. It’s hard to forget it,” he said. “She always had something to say. She was funny. She always had interesting observations and was just so candid. What you saw was what you got with her, publicly and privately. She never had much of a filter, but as she got older, it disappeared. So you had this pure level of authenticity.
“I believe that without Barbara Bush, you would certainly not have a President George H.W. Bush. There’s no way you have a President George W. Bush, and I don’t think you’d have a bunch of kids and grandkids that believe life should be dedicated to something bigger than themselves. Gampy was an amazing leader and had an ability to kind of lead through example,” he continued. “Grandmother had a tough-love style to her and thank God for it.”
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers, and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson and the staff of Florida Politics.
— 33,829 FL residents (+4,122 since April 24)
— 899 Non-FL residents (+73 since April 24)
— 1,766 Travel related
— 12,145 Contact with a confirmed case
— 1,587 Both
— 18,331 Under investigation
— 1,314 in FL
March 15 through April 30:
Claims submitted: 1,741,890
— Confirmed unique claims: 960,410 (+258,670 since April 23)
— Claims processed: 693,767 (+474,832 since April 23)
— Claims paid: 426,623 (+272,835 since April 23)
Total paid out: $598.8 million (+$441.3 million since April 23)
— State money: $251,189,309
— Federal money: $347,617,800
The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Ron DeSantis unveils reopening plan — The Governor on Wednesday plotted the course for Florida’s economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The first phase of his “Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step.” plan to reopen the state begins Monday, except in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, the worst hit by the coronavirus spread. Retail stores and dine-in restaurants can operate at 25% capacity, under his order. Elective surgeries will also resume. But visitation at long-term care facilities is still banned, and bars, gyms, and personal services such as hairdressers will remain closed.
Distance Learning to continue — As expected, the plan to reopen Florida still calls for distance learning to continue at schools. That’s no surprise, as DeSantis announced last week that campuses would remain closed through the end of the school year. But it also comes as school districts report as high as 25% of students are not logging in to classes, whether because of lack of internet access, a shortage of tech-savvy or plain disinterest. It’s leading county school leaders to consider extending school days in the fall or expanding summer programs to help students catch up once school is back in session.
White House showcases Florida flattening — President Donald Trump hosted DeSantis at the White House on Tuesday and praised Florida’s efforts to “flatten the curve” without mass outbreaks or draconian measures. Trump extolled Florida as charting a path forward that the country should follow and said DeSantis has also shown how to obey White House guidelines on social distancing and now on implementing a phased reopening. Trump lauded the accelerated road construction in Florida, which DeSantis said would drive “reduced congestion” as the economy opens up.
Florida jobless claims surpass California — As the state just now begins to address a severe backlog of hundreds of thousands of unemployment applications, Florida on Thursday overtook California as the state with the highest number of weekly unemployment claims. Florida reported 432,465 jobless claims for the week ended April 25, beating California’s 328,042 the same week. It’s the first time since late March California, the most populous state in the union, did not lead the nation in claims. Americans as a whole have reported 30.3 million jobless claims over the past six weeks, reports CNBC.
Voting Rights trial advances remotely — An ongoing trial regarding the implementation of a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights for most felons upon completion of sentences continues through video technology and teleconferencing this week. Advocates argue requirements put in place by the legislation to pay all financial restitution before they can legally register to vote place an unfair and discriminatory restriction. The American Civil Liberties Union and other plaintiffs argued in court this intentionally disenfranchises voters, but state lawyers said the amendment passed in 2018 requires all terms of sentencing be met.
Back (all) the Blue
Attorney General Ashley Moody has recognized law enforcement officers who go above and beyond with “Back the Blue” awards.
The awards typically highlight a single officer, sometimes a duo, who have performed lifesaving feats or launched all-star community outreach efforts.
With officers across the state serving on the front lines during the coronavirus pandemic, Moody couldn’t settle on a single recipient, so she picked ’em all.
Floridians are coming together to support LEOs in extraordinary ways during #COVID19.
They all deserve a #BacktheBlueOAG Award, but for now: THANK YOU! Keep fighting.
— AG Ashley Moody (@AGAshleyMoody) April 29, 2020
The virus has forced the AG to pause awards ceremonies, so there are no worries about police flocking to the Capitol in groups of 10 or more.
“Our campaign is designed to highlight law enforcement officers, organizations and citizens taking extraordinary steps to Back the Blue. While this campaign is temporarily on hold, I am overwhelmed with how Floridians and law enforcement are coming together to support each other as we all work together to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Moody said.
“If I was able, I would issue each and every one of these great Floridians a Back the Blue Award in person, but for now, all I can do is say THANK YOU and keep fighting. Your selflessness and compassion are helping a lot of Floridians through these challenging times.”
Still, Moody did have a handful of shoutouts.
The Rockledge Police Department got a nod for picking up and delivering prescriptions to seniors who are at risk of contracting COVID-19; the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office churning out about 100 face masks a day for fellow first responders; in Miami, school resource officers are helping deliver food to students who rely on school lunches; and in Hillsborough County, three deputies risked their own health to resuscitate a COVID-19 positive man.
Instagram of the Week
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Bay County Sandy Beaches Re-Opening This morning the Bay County Commission and Panama City Beach City Council unanimously voted today, Thursday, April 30, 2020 to reopen the sandy beaches of unincorporated Bay County and Panama City Beach full-time starting on Friday, May 1, 2020. There will not be any time restrictions, but beachgoers must follow the restrictions set down by Gov. DeSantis meant to stop the spread of COVID-19. This means that people cannot gather in groups of more than 10 and should maintain at least six feet apart from others.
With hurricane season looming, the Florida Commission on Hurricane Loss Projection Methodology mulled so-called “deficiencies” in a flood model Tuesday morning.
Recent years have seen a succession of devastating storms hit the state, with flooding from slow-moving late-season soaker Hurricanes Irma and Matthew presenting especial threats for low-lying areas, including inland areas.
Karen Clark and Company’s flood model was the only one considered, as Florida International University withdrew its submission.
The model was examined for “deficiencies,” such as a lack of required documentation, or statements deemed to be incomplete, unclear, or nonresponsive.
In what was a 341-page document, over 100 such deficiencies were identified across a series of categories, with an eye toward correction from KCC by May 29.
The goal in identifying deficiencies is to provide a road to correct them, one panelist said, “aspects to overcome so that these deficiencies can go away.”
Inland floods are one area of specific concern on the model, with questions raised about variance in results between inland and coastal flooding. Expect further refinement there as the process moves forward with on-site visits July 20-23, assuming travel is safe by then.
A “virtual on-site review” process would not work because of security concerns over sharing proprietary information.
Faith leaders step up
The Department of Children and Families is teaming up with faith-based organizations to help children in the foster system possibly exposed to COVID-19.
DCF working alongside the Florida Coalition for Children (FCC) and Erik Dellenback, the Governor’s Faith and Community Based Liaison to help relocate and care for foster children.
“I’m extremely thankful to the faith leaders who are’ practicing what they preach, supporting children in foster care and ensuring each one, no matter their circumstances, has the opportunity to grow up feeling safe and loved,” DCF Secretary Chad Poppell said. “During this time of stress and uncertainty, we have to remember that we are all working toward something greater. Today, our world is different, but our commitment to children remains strong.”
Dellenback added, “Florida is blessed to have a faith-based community that understands true selflessness and recognizes the need to continue serving others during this pandemic. As they have demonstrated, now more than ever, we have to lean on one another and help our neighbors — especially children and youth — whenever possible. We will get through this, together.”
Two organizations volunteered to help on Day One: Camp Anderson, a Christian youth camp in Oldtown, and Angel Armies, a national organization founded by Grammy Award-winning Christian recording artist Chris Tomlin.
Camp Anderson provide 14-day isolation quarters for children who are returning to foster care and children who may have been potentially exposed to COVID-19. Camp Anderson has 22 counselors on-site, all of whom have passed the same background check required of DCF staff.
“We cannot turn a blind eye to our kids in the middle of their greatest need,” Camp Director William Bloodworth said. “We will all stand before God and give an account of our stewardship one day, and we will realize that when we served the most vulnerable in our society, God will commend us for having served Him.”
Angel Armies, meanwhile, donated $25,000 to purchase laptops for foster children, allowing them to keep in contact with loved ones and continue attending school online.
Backup has arrived
In the weeks since the new coronavirus showed up in Florida, DCF’s Economic Self-Sufficiency program has received nearly a million public assistance applications, and the phones have been ringing off the hook.
Poppell said ESS had processed about 70% of the applications, thanks to an assist from UnitedHealthcare. With the company’s continued assistance, the department plans to blaze through the rest of them.
“We’re extremely grateful for UnitedHealthcare’s generosity — this is an unparalleled level of corporate stewardship that will allow us to provide high-quality customer service,” Poppell said.
“We will continue to onboard and train agents in our Economic Self-Sufficiency Call Center to reassure clients and help resolve their issues in a timely, effective manner, ultimately ensuring all individuals and families in Florida have access to the financial support they need during this public health emergency.”
As of Monday, UnitedHealthcare had sent 100 call center representatives to DCF to help answer calls and questions regarding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistant for Needy Families (TANF), and Medicaid eligibility.
“UnitedHealthcare is committed to helping people access the tools and resources they need to address this unprecedented health crisis,” said Michael Lawton, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community & State of Florida. “As we come together to address this pandemic, it is a privilege to support the state of Florida and the Department of Children and Families to help provide this valuable service to our communities.”
Golden Apple Awards
Sen. Randolph Bracy is seeking submissions for the inaugural Golden Apple Awards.
Bracy, himself a former educator, said he launched the Golden Apples to honor teachers who go the extra mile.
“America’s future is written in our classrooms,” the Ocoee Democrat said. “We all depend on our teachers who guarantee that our young ones have the best education possible. I personally want to thank every single teacher in the state of Florida for their hard work and sacrifice.”
To nominate someone, constituents in Orange County-based district must create a short video, no longer than three minutes, explaining why the nominee should be a Golden Apple Award recipient and send it Bracy through Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, or in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bracy said he looks forward to watching every video and will announce the winners May 5 — Teacher Appreciation Day.
Ten Golden Apples will be awarded in all, with the first-place winner receiving a $1,500 prize. Second place receives $1,000; third place receives $750. All the other winners will receive $500.
Unemployment czar offers advice
Sens. Jeff Brandes and Jason Pizzo teamed up Thursday night to get answers for Floridians struggling to navigate the state’s troubled unemployment system.
Speaking to Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter, the two sought information about how jobless Floridians can apply for claims, track the process and receive funds once they’re approved.
Satter, who Gov. DeSantis tapped to manage the state’s flawed unemployment site, suggested applicants be thorough when filing. The more fields they answer, the quicker officials can process and approve their applications.
Satter said that might take a little more leg work — perhaps calling a former employer to get their federal Tax ID — but would pay off in the end.
The best number to call for applicants who are still experiencing trouble is 1-833-FLAPPLY (352-7759). Satter also recommended those filing applications online still having difficulty accessing either the Connect site or the secondary site established to handle additional volume is in the late afternoon between 2:30 and 5.
Satter also cautioned jobless Floridians who are backdating applications. The state allowed applicants to date their applications as far back as March 9, but doing so could actually mean less money in their pockets.
The federal government’s $600-a-month unemployment assistance is only available from March 29. That means if an applicant uses March 22 as the date they became unemployed, they would receive state benefits for 12 weeks, but federal benefits for just 11 since federal benefits run concurrently with the state.
The state unemployment is among the lowest in the country at just $275 per week. The unemployment website now has a tool to help applicants figure out how to maximize their benefit from the state and federal programs.
Satter said the system is working better now than it had before, going from processing about 6,000 applications a day before the pandemic to about 60,000 or more per day now.
Coronavirus makes case for E-Fairness
Sen. Joe Gruters said a spike in online shopping shows the need now more than ever for E-Fairness to pass.
The Sarasota Republican in an interview with Café con Tampa charging online sales tax at the point of sale remains one of his highest legislative priorities. Even as chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, Gruters hasn’t had any luck the past two years pushing the measure forward. But with the pandemic shutting down on-site retail in Florida, finding a way to collect sales tax is more important to Florida’s state revenues than ever.
“Look, Disney and Universal have been shut down for two months already, and they may not come on board. Gruters said. “The sales tax generated in Orlando alone is like $50 million a day.”
Meanwhile, Amazon just reported its sales are up 26% to $75.5 billion in the first quarter companywide.
Gruters has noted individuals technically owe sales tax on all online purchases, but most don’t pay those taxes each year with the Department of Revenue unless they get audited. That was costing the state an estimated $780 million a year in lost sales tax revenue before the pandemic.
Gruters estimates a significant spike in online shopping amid the pandemic could push lost revenues past the $1 billion mark this year.
The Senator has long argued this isn’t a sales tax, just a collection at a more appropriate moment for money already owed.
Too little, too late
Central Florida Democratic Reps. Amy Mercado and Anna Eskamani joined experts and grassroots organizations Thursday for a virtual town-hall to discuss the COVID-19 crisis and Florida’s unemployment insurance system.
Area residents were able to have questions answered regarding the effects of COVID-19 on the community, the latest information on the struggling unemployment system, and resources residents need to take care of themselves and their families.
The lawmakers were joined by Florida Policy Institute senior policy analyst Cindy Huddleston and members of Florida health care workers union 1199SEIU.
“Our state’s unemployment system is a nightmare for our residents to navigate: the system was designed to fail, and the benefits are often too meager to meet the needs of struggling families,” Mercado said. “Today, we took questions from the public to make sure that they are able to access the help they need, and to shed a light on what has been an opaque and confusing process for many.”
Eskamani added, “The last two months have been horrific for Floridians. Our team has spent countless hours responding to emails and answering calls from constituents who are unable to access unemployment benefits, and are distressed and frustrated by the lack of clear response from our Governor and FLDEO. In the past week, we’ve already seen an additional 400,000 unemployment claims statewide; these virtual town halls help to provide folks in need of help with answers that our state government has failed to provide.”
As of Thursday, the state had confirmed about 960,000 unique claims, processed 693,767, and sent payments to about 426,623. DEO has paid out nearly $600 million in benefits so far, with more than half coming from the federal CARES Act funds bolstering state UI payments by $600 a week.
“Central Florida families are taking the brunt of the economic fallout from COVID-19, with counties like Orange and Osceola dealing with one of the highest unemployment rates anywhere in the state as our tourism industry craters. During these difficult times, it is crucial that working families here know what resources are available for them to make ends meet,” Huddleston said.
Democratic Rep. Shevrin Jones urged the state to publish more detailed COVID-19 death information following a Tampa Bay Times report that medical examiners were asked to stop releasing info.
Through the crisis, medical examiners had been releasing their count of deaths attributable to the novel coronavirus. That total was typically higher than the state’s count.
The state recently stopped publishing the medical examiners’ count. The Tampa Bay Times report alleges local medical examiners had been asked by the Florida Department of Health to stop making their information available to the public.
“Reporting deaths of non-Florida residents is a simple act,” Jones said. “How can we even discuss reopening the state when the statistics used to justify doing so are insufficient? Using accurate data is critical for a full picture of Floridians’ public health, and using this undercounted data to make decisions is irresponsible, if not overtly manipulative.”
DeSantis announced the beginning of a phased reopening of the state, starting Monday. Jones and some of his Democratic colleagues have suggested the Governor is moving too quickly before additional data and testing capacity is available to ensure a safe reopening.
State officials have said that any limits on the release of death information are due to concerns about individuals’ privacy. But Jones rebuffed that explanation.
“While no one’s death should be reduced to a statistic, our statistics of deaths in Florida must be accurate and transparent,” Jones added. “I don’t care where someone resided, so long as our state is their final resting place.”
Dropped the ball
A showdown could be brewing over rules allowing for the compensation of college athletes after Florida attempted to regulate the issue last Session.
On Wednesday, the NCAA announced it would back a plan allowing athletes to sign endorsements and receive other outside pay. The precise language of the new rules has not been finalized, but the proposal would give the NCAA and universities latitude to block athletes from signing specific endorsement deals.
For instance, a portion of the proposal urges the NCAA Board of Governors to consider barring or limiting the ability for shoe and apparel companies to endorse athletes.
That could come into play if, for example, a university is sponsored by Nike, but an athlete at that school wants to appear in an ad for Under Armour. It’s possible those final rules could disallow athletes from signing such a deal.
Those limits prompted GOP Rep. Chip LaMarca — who backed a bill last Session allowing college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness — to argue the newly proposed rules don’t go far enough.
“All we continue to hear are excuses from this multibillion-dollar, not-for-profit,” he said. “It is absurd and shows they care more about protecting TV and apparel deals than they do about these young women and men who have worked their entire lives for this opportunity.”
DeSantis has yet to sign the athlete pay bill lawmakers approved during Session, and the NCAA’s proposal pushes for Congress to pass a federal law which would supersede measures at the state level — including Florida’s.
It’s unclear whether Congress could agree on such a bill or how closely it would mirror the NCAA’s plan. Florida’s measure also doesn’t go into effect until 2021, delaying any potential clash.
But there also appears to be disagreement between lawmakers who backed Florida’s athlete compensation measure. Republican Sen. Debbie Mayfield — who sponsored the Senate companion to LaMarca’s bill — called the NCAA announcement a “step in the right direction.”
FHP will now ensure a victims’ personally identifiable information is kept confidential.
FHP announced the policy change in an April 24 memo stating, in part, “Our vision for ‘A Safer Florida’ remains, and that includes the continued protection of crime victims.”
The new policy brings the department in line with the victims’ rights ballot measure passed by voters in the 2018 election. Amendment 6 earned about 62% of the vote two years ago, earning it a spot in the state constitution.
A vital component of the amendment grants “the right to prevent the disclosure of information or records that could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family, or which could disclose confidential or privileged information of the victim.”
It also requires victims — if they request — to be notified of developments and court proceedings, such as bail and pretrial release hearings, for the crimes committed against them as well as the right to speak during such legal proceedings.
Though added to the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission, Marsy’s Law for Florida was the amendment’s primary backer, and the group has remained active as the constitutional changes are implemented across Florida’s justice system.
“Marsy’s Law for Florida today thanks the Florida Highway Patrol for their effort and commitment to protect victims’ right to privacy by ensuring a victims’ personally identifiable information is kept private, in line with Florida’s Constitution,” the group said in a Wednesday news release.
The Florida Bar is lending a hand to lawyers feeling overwhelmed on the job and with life.
The confidential Florida Lawyers Helpline went live Friday, two months ahead of schedule, to help lawyers handle the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic. Attorneys will be able to speak with professional counselors about marriage and family issues, medical and stress issues, and substance abuse problems.
“It is clear that our members, like all of society, are facing an epic moment of collective crisis,” Florida Bar President-elect Dori Foster-Morales said. “We are here to serve our members in whatever way we can, and we hope that activating this new Helpline quickly will provide the assistance lawyers need when so much of our lives has been turned upside down.”
Foster-Morales has been a leader in efforts to improve the mental health and wellness of Florida lawyers.
During the pandemic, mental health professionals have seen more anxiety, depression and loneliness. And studies by the American Bar Association have shown law practitioners are at higher risks for depression and substance abuse.
“Many of our members were already dealing with stressors, and now those are amplified,” Florida Bar President John Stewart said. “Now is when the need for professional counseling is the greatest.”
CorpCare Associates will operate the call line, which can refer Florida Bar members to up to three free sessions per year, yet calls to the line are unlimited. Lawyers can meet with licensed mental health professionals by phone, video streaming or, when offices reopen, in person.
CorpCare has 200 professional counselors in Florida and 11,000 nationally. The group also serves members of the state bars in Georgia, Maryland, and South Carolina.
Florida Bar members may reach the hotline by calling 1-833-FL1-WELL (1-833-351-9355).
Pop that trunk
Leon County seniors will soon be able to pick up hot meals without leaving their cars.
With meal sites closed around the state due to COVID-19, a partnership of eldercare agencies and local restaurants will launch Meals of Love. Registered seniors will be able to pull up to pop-up sites and unlock their trunks, allowing volunteers and restaurant staff to safely — with gloves and masks — place the meals in the back of their cars.
“The global COVID-19 pandemic may have changed the way we operate, but it certainly has not stopped us from looking for creative ways to continue serving our most vulnerable,” said Lisa Bretz, executive director of Area Agency on Aging for North Florida.
Elder Care Services is also partnering on the project. The group is providing more than 1,500 meals per week to 300 homebound seniors in Leon County.
The Department of Elder Affairs has allowed restaurants and food establishments to become emergency meal vendors for Florida’s homebound or self-isolating seniors. A program similar to Meals of Love opened in Central Florida.
“This effort is truly an example of how public and private sectors can come together when there is a need,” said Jocelyne Fliger, CEO of Elder Care Services. “This not only helps the seniors we serve, but it also allows us to give back by investing in our favorite restaurants and keeping their workers working.”
Pop-up sites, announced weekly, will distribute from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., serving eligible seniors who are 60 years old or older. Call the Elder Helpline at 1-800-963-5337 to register to help the pop-up sites.