Hello, Northern Arizona! I hope this finds you doing well. It’s been a long couple of months and as the longest spring I can remember stretches into summer, we find ourselves facing more uncertainty. Arizona’s COVID-19 numbers continue to rise, it is spreading and we don’t know when the numbers will level off, let alone decline. This creates uncertainty for families, for business, and employees.
Right now we’re not sure what the 2020 school year will look like, but we know that keeping kids home creates a hardship for many. Students do not have equal access to technology, which creates unequal opportunities for students to continue their education online. They may have cell phones but no access to a computer. They may not have access to the internet at all. Students, teachers and staff may have underlying health issues, or a medically vulnerable family member that makes it dangerous for them to return to in-person classes. We are asking teachers to prepare for a school year when no one knows what next week will look like.
Businesses and employees are also in a state of uncertainty. This week, several Flagstaff establishments have made the difficult decision to voluntarily close their doors to protect the health of their employees and their customers. Others have scaled back their hours, and closed dining rooms. Around the country we’re seeing new mandatory closures and it’s hard not to wonder if Arizona is next. The entire eyes of the world are on Arizona right now, and none of this is good for business, especially in areas that rely on tourism.
As a mayor, I have limited ability to implement any new safety measures. That power has been preempted by the governor. I was able to implement a mask requirement and did so as quickly as I could. It is my belief that, until we can slow the spread of this virus, it will continue to wreak havoc on our local economy. Northern Arizona relies on small businesses, businesses without big profit margins, businesses where employees are closer to family. These are businesses with a small number of employees and when one is sick, it can impact everything. We cannot return to operations as normal until we can keep people safe. Stopping the spread is an economic issue.
At the state level we see a lack of action on a failing unemployment system and a need for more support for small businesses. Supplemental unemployment insurance and eviction protections are about to expire, as are measures to offer mortgage relief. There is no plan for extending these and protecting families and small businesses. There is no plan for a statewide economic recovery. There are limits to what local governments can do – we do not have the authority or the resources of higher levels of government – and rural communities only received $0.66 for every $1 that went to Phoenix. At the city, we will do whatever we can, but it is my belief that the state of Arizona needs a plan, and then leadership will need the political will and the resources to execute it. FBN
By Coral Evans
Coral Evans is the mayor of Flagstaff.