In the past few days, I have heard heart-wrenching stories about the consequences of the COVID-19 virus. These stories involve those who have had loved ones succumb to, or become severely ill as a result of this horrific disease. M
y heart goes out to those who have been infected and have lost loved ones.
I'm also gravely concerned with those who have lost their jobs or have had their livelihoods threatened.
They involve business owners who have experienced significant downturns or been forced to have their doors shuttered as the result of the economic shutdown that has been ordered to combat the virus. They involve employees who have been furloughed and are now on unemployment and are not sure if the job they loved will be there when the lockdowns lift. All are simply trying to stay afloat.
Our challenge, our shared challenge, during these perilous times is to rise up and stand up for all impacted by this disease. We must stand for life, we must stand for liberty, and we must stand for those whose lives depend upon having the liberty we all so cherish.
As President Trump has indicated, the next couple of weeks will be difficult, as the death tolls rise and the cases increase. I encourage you to watch his daily briefings and listen to the words of Dr. Birx, Dr. Fauci, and others on his team.
In observing how society is responding to the recommendations to "slow the spread", the results are promising.
Businesses to individual citizens are taking the necessary and responsible steps to practice social distancing and work from home, when possible.
Just last night, HyVee announced they're implementing one-way aisles in grocery stores and protecting their workers with temporary barriers. Walmart and Target are reducing the number of people who can shop at one time to minimize large gatherings.
Many stores are giving seniors and other vulnerable populations special shopping hours. These are
all prudent moves that keep their businesses running while lowering the risk of transmitting the disease, particularly to vulnerable populations.
To help our economy, many are purchasing gift cards for restaurants and other shops, to use later, and to help give them cash flow in the short term. We've all seen churches continue to meet online or even in parking lot services. This is all very encouraging and gives us all hope that we will get through this.
As Americans are taking these actions, evidence already indicates that some of the more pessimistic modeling in terms of hospitalizations, in most areas of the country, have proven not to be correct, which is
a very good thing.
As Governor Colyer has written about in the Wall Street Journal, there are promising drugs that are already proving to have an effect on helping people who have the virus. This is also very encouraging.
The Steps Government Takes
Crafting solutions to these profound problems in unprecedented times is not easy, particularly when the decisions that are implemented impact millions.
Policymakers, such as myself, must be
prudent and precise
when it comes to the policies we craft. From how governors and health officials craft stay-at-home orders to the priorities we set in the budgets we pass, we must be mindful in everything we do, and the impact it has on the daily lives of the people we were elected, or appointed, to serve.
To this end, over the past few days I have had several conversations with various business owners about their situations, in an effort to determine what would best help them to simply stay afloat as we wait for the curve to flatten.
The answers are varied, and in some cases surprising:
For instance, some I spoke with are actually hesitant to take out the small business loans offered by the government, as they fear that the recovery after this virus episode has passed will be so slow that they will still have to lay people off. One Shawnee business owner told me that for every month that this shut down continues, it will take six months of normal activity to catch up...if they can at all.
So, despite the optimistic predictions you hear from some, the recovery from this will not be "V" shaped….
it will take some time for things to get moving again.
Some owners are facing huge property tax payments due in the next 30-60 days that they will not have the money to pay. Some are facing huge lease or rent payments that are too large to be sustainable in an economic shutdown.
The money simply is not there when there is no money coming in.
Because of all these factors, some businesses may not be able to reopen at all...so an SBA loan won't make sense. It can work for a short-term fix, but if this shutdown is to go on for longer than a month or two, no amount of government assistance will keep the ship from sinking.
I am communicating these realities to other Senators and policymakers, to demonstrate the importance of eventually turning on the economic spigot, even a little. Some of these answers may lie in things such as tax holidays and the like. Some of them may involve simply crafting stay-at-home orders in ways that allow aspects of our economy to start moving again, even if not at full steam. We should also have the courage, if a policy implemented proves to be cumbersome or with unintended consequences, to amend and adjust.
Small business owners will be the engine of recovery when this crisis is past. All business is truly essential, no matter how government defines it, because it puts food on the table for someone. We have to make sure they are still there to open their doors and get people back to work when this is all over.
Government Must Be Responsible, Too
At times like this, I think that the government has to tighten its belt along with everyone else.
Just before the Senate session ended, I asked the budget director how much money we had in the unemployment fund...as I anticipated we would need all that cash to get through this shutdown. There was just under $1 Billion dollars at that time. As of last week, there were already over 66,000 Kansas residents filing for unemployment, and I suspect that number will climb much higher as today's unemployment report just came out with another 6 million American's filing for unemployment. If the unemployment rate stays right where it is...assuming an average weekly unemployment payment of $300...we'll blow through that $1 Billion dollars in 50 weeks.
I argued back in March that the state needed to cut spending rather than pass a $500 million dollar increase in the budget. A few other Senators and I could see this train wreck coming down the tracks and argued that spending needed to be cut so we could be more responsive to this coming situation. This should now be more clear than ever as we see the state revenues dropping rapidly. If businesses have no income, they of course will not pay income tax, nor collect sales taxes.
If the state is not receiving the same level of income and sales tax revenue, it cannot keep spending at the same level and pace it has been.
The state budget needs to be immediately reviewed and priorities must be made so we can provide the most relief possible to Kansas citizens.