The Covid-19 health response has shut down New York’s local economies. With most business activities on pause, local government leaders should be addressing the economic impact now and preparing for the time when businesses are permitted to reopen.
To date, the health impact of the virus in Upstate New York has been less severe than the New York metropolitan area, though the problem will grow. But the economic impact here, as in the rest of the country, has been severe. Most local businesses are shut down and will not be allowed to reopen until the Covid-19 threat has been contained.
The initial Federal response to the Covid-19 pandemic was slow. The time between January when the first signs of the pandemic appeared, and Mid-March could have been used to prepare for the coming surge of cases of the virus. New York’s local leaders should learn from this, and act quickly to help spur an economic recovery once the crisis abates.
State and local leaders should take both immediate and mid-term actions to help their communities recover. At the state level, Governor Cuomo has developed and communicated effective responses to the health and economic aspects of the crisis. Even so, resources are strained. Health care workers are having difficulties getting needed supplies, and on the economic side, unemployed workers are finding that applying for benefits is difficult because online and telephone-based application systems are overwhelmed.
At the local level in the short-term, leaders should be widely publicizing the availability of the benefits available from the recently enacted Federal legislation. For laid off workers, enhanced unemployment assistance can increase benefits to $1,100 weekly and has been extended to independent contractors – so called “gig workers.” Newly unemployed people should be notified that they can get health insurance from the state healthcare exchange (or Medicaid, if applicable) when their insurance lapses.
Local economic developers should be in contact with small businesses to make them aware of the Federal Small Business Administration’s new lending program that provides loan forgiveness to borrowers who rehire employees by the end of June. They should also work with local lenders to ensure that they are making credit available to needy business borrowers. And, economic development agencies should systematically contact local businesses to identify unmet needs.
Responding to this crisis is necessarily an all hands-on deck event. Local economic development developers should be part of local teams that work with hospitals and health care professionals to ensure that needs are met – whether by helping deal with supply chain issues, making space available for patient overflows, or other identified demands.
Current health related activity restrictions might be lifted this summer. But the relaxed limitations are likely be accompanied by expectations that local health departments and medical professionals will work to create effective surveillance of the population for cases of Covid-19.
When restrictions are lifted, local businesses may need assistance in meeting regulations like capacity restrictions and spacing requirements in restaurants that are likely to be established. Employee health monitoring may be required. Again, county and municipal personnel should proactively contact businesses to identify, diagnose and solve problems.
Because of worker dislocations resulting from business failures and employee reductions, worker retraining will be a necessary priority. The focus should be on short-term training, particularly that focused on providing worker certifications for needed positions arising from the crisis.
The Covid-19 pandemic is a crisis that is unparalleled in our experience. But we will recover. New York state and its localities are doing all they can to respond to the health crisis. While the state and its localities meet that challenge, our leaders should act to minimize its economic impacts, and to prepare for the day when local companies can again do business.
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