Hello, Northern Arizona. I hope you are all hanging in there okay. I know this is an incredibly uncertain and difficult situation. Like you, I have been personally and directly impacted by COVID-19. My business is currently in flux and I was laid off from one of my jobs, a small business.
Most of us work for a small business. An actual small business has less than 150 or 100 employees; many Northern Arizona employers have less than 50 employees. It is incredibly frustrating to see relief going to large publicly traded companies when our mom and pop restaurants, stores and other businesses are the ones who need the help.
I believe that the state and federal government can and must do a better job. We are largely a tourism based economy and it doesn’t look like it will be safe or practical to welcome large amounts of travelers from all over the world for some time. The state should take immediate steps to keep our small businesses afloat.
Regardless of whether or not they can open, they may not have customers right now. One way to provide direct assistance to our small business could be for the state to waive the collection of quarterly payments for the first, second and third quarters of this year for businesses with 150 employees or less. Doing this would require the state to send aid to counties and cities so that we may continue to employ people and take care of essential services (and those monies could come from the monies allocated directly to our state through the federal government’s COVID-19 CARES Act or the state’s rainy day fund). These steps would keep more people employed and more of our small businesses open for business.
Furthermore, the unemployment system isn’t working. I talked to someone the other day who has been applying weekly and has yet to see any benefits, the system is overwhelmed, inadequate, and needs fixing. We also need to examine who qualifies. If you have multiple jobs and lost one of them because of the virus, you do not qualify for any aid to make up that lost income. This is hurting families. If you lost hours but are still technically working you’re probably struggling right now. Two weeks ago, I sent the governor’s office a one-page solution that would allow individuals who have lost one of their two+ jobs access to the federal COVID-19 unemployment assistance and have yet to hear back.
We also need a plan for economic recovery. We need investments in infrastructure to put people back to work; we need training programs expanded. There is a massive need for leadership right now and the legislature is at home. They adjourned without any plans for fixing a system that isn’t working, without a plan to get relief to small, rural communities, and without a plan to bring the economy back on line. I would urge the state to tap into the rainy day fund now, to find a way to put the legislature back to work and get aid to local employers with less than 150 employees as well as workers who have lost significant income. Northern Arizona and small towns depend on it. FBN
By Coral Evans
Coral Evans is the mayor of Flagstaff.