In recent weeks, Washington has failed Main Street yet again with its heavy-handed, one-size-fits-all approach to stopping the coronavirus pandemic. Yes, of course we should listen to health experts and continue to engage in social distancing and other safe practices: It’s our duty to our fellow Americans, especially the most vulnerable.
However, this duty is offset by another: that, as both producers and consumers, we have an obligation to our economy and the hundreds of millions who rely on it. We have a duty to the small-business owners and recently laid-off workers across the country. We need to begin a responsible conversation as to when and how we begin to reopen the economy. There is a time for caution and self-imposed isolation, but it must be a finite and time-limited measure.
Soon enough, the economy must once again be open for business.
This conversation must be held in earnest by those in power, from our elected officials in Congress and governors across the United States. If not, it is up to us to hold them accountable.
The government’s guidance during the current economic downturn has been sorely lacking. The issue that small businesses face is not the lack of customers but the lack of paying customers. The supply of paying customers is, of course, necessary for the short-term liquidity small businesses need to pay their employees and keep the enterprise afloat.
As a result of many clients not paying bills or making purchases, many owners are faced with furloughing employees or cutting salaries just to keep the doors open, all the while endeavoring to maintain the level of service that their clients expect. Many business owners are uncertain if they will be able to bring back furloughed employees at all. For example, my neighbor is a small-business owner, and both he and his wife are forgoing their salaries in order to have the cash on hand to pay their employees.
The small-business loan program passed by Congress was a start, but the process for actually obtaining these loans has been a nightmare. Stories abound of endless loopholes that prevent small businesses from receiving the funding they need and deserve. The longer the nationwide lockdown continues, the more small businesses will close. As a result, economic forecasts warn that we may hit more than 30% unemployment, higher than unemployment during the Great Depression.
We need to go further than a small-business loan program. We need to talk about how we can actually return to work as a nation because, as things stand, the small-business sector is on life support.
But what does a responsible return to the workplace look like? If we reopen the economy in a haphazard fashion, the influx of returning workers will almost certainly cause a spike in cases of the coronavirus that would set us back months and even mitigate the economic benefits of returning to work.
We need a plan to return to work. This means making sure that the logistics and infrastructure are in place to accommodate a potential influx in new cases. Hospitals need to have the staff, supplies, and equipment so as not to be overwhelmed.
In the actual workplace, we need to make sure employees are not returning to work sick. This means taking their temperatures and practicing excellent hygiene. Antibody tests may make this easier, but we are still far from widespread implementation. The same goes for a potential coronavirus vaccine and possible treatment methods.
The point is to enact a comprehensive and deliberate approach to reopening the economy. The virus is likely to peak in cases in the coming week. Therefore, now is the time to come up with our plan to reopen the economy. The livelihoods of millions of hard-working families depend on it.
Parissa Sedghi is a vice president at FreedomWorks, the nation’s largest community of grassroots activists promoting free markets and personal liberty. Sedghi has over a decade of experience fighting for free market policies in Washington, D.C. Born to an immigrant father who fled Iran in the 1970s, Sedghi knows firsthand that freedom is always one generation away from extinction.