Keep Moving Forward from COVID-19
Unprecedented. It’s a word we’ve all been hearing often these days, especially as it relates to the COVID-19 crisis.
We’re all feeling it even as we begin to take the first steps toward reopening the national, state, and local economy. And we in Brevard County face the truly unprecedented task of economic recovery and growth while faced with rising unemployment upwards of 14 percent and the uncertainty of further COVID-19 outbreaks and a forecast of a more active than usual hurricane season.
That said, I believe Florida’s District 52 and the larger Space Coast and Central Florida region can bounce back with unprecedented success, if we decide to embrace what’s NEXT for Florida with intelligence, innovation, diversification and an aggressive growth strategy to drive real, mature, and potentially exponential growth across our economy for the next Century.
Before we begin a dialogue on economic growth and expansion, however, we need to heal from the lasting impacts of COVID-19.
Make no mistake, key sector closures flattened the curve, with the Space Coast faring better than most of Florida in terms of documented cases and loss of life. Now, we need to work equally hard to flatten the economic curve through robust regional fiscal measures that will keep people and small businesses from economic ruin. Democrat or Republican – we must all face the road to recovery united in purpose.
FLATTENING THE ECONOMIC CURVE
On the Brevard County Commission’s agenda is a debate on the allocation of roughly $39.6 million in federal CARES funds to aid our economic relief. This, in addition to $4.4 million in direct relief for county residents likely allocated as direct payments for housing and food assistance.
QUESTION: Where then should Brevard County focus its economic relief efforts to mitigate the rising economic downturn?
ANSWER: Targeted economic relief for two core elements of our economy.
- True small businesses; and
- Low-to-middle income wage earners in our hardest hit industries.
1. SMALL TO MEDIUM SIZED BUSINESS ECONOMIC RELIEF.
These are indeed unprecedented times, and no two economists who will agree on every detail, but we should begin with small and medium size business (less than 99 employees). Small businesses comprise 99.8 percent of all businesses in the state. Big business (100+ employees) is clearly important, but with the overwhelming number of employed Floridians working for small businesses, we must secure those to prevent a severe economic downturn.
Therefore, Brevard County should allocate at least 50 percent of the $39.6 million on small and medium sized businesses through Disaster Loan/Loan Advance Programs, Debt Relief, micro-loans, and paycheck protection extensions. This funding must include enhanced oversight to ensure that we spend our dollars efficiently and that true small and medium sized businesses are protected. Finally, to ensure that those businesses can navigate new health restrictions and complex economic waters, we should allocate funding to proven SBA mentorship programs such as Space Coast SCORE with tailored support for our hardest hit economic sectors.
2. COMMUNITY ECONOMIC RELIEF.
At last count, Brevard County reported 12,030 COVID-19 related unemployment claims. We cannot fix our negligent unemployment insurance infrastructure, but we can mitigate the impact of this crisis through $10 million in economic assistance given in the form of subsidized micro-loans for our hardest hit citizens. This includes exploration of rapid, lump-sum payments or short-term universal basic income (UBI) payments to those working in a reduced capacity (e.g. service workers).
The remaining $10 million in economic relief should fund public works projects focused on new COVID-19 hires for oversight or scaled support to hardest hit economic sectors. We can achieve this through exploration of hazard pay and/or county-wide wage subsidy pilots which provide a direct enhancement to the take-home pay of low-to-middle income workers most effected by the pandemic (in the form of money added to each paycheck alongside wages from employers.
There is funding allocated for relief from the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. It is our responsibility to ensure that it is used to produce the most good across the board in Brevard County.
ENACTING TARGETED ECONOMIC RELIEF IS A NON-PARTISAN ISSUE and by putting the truly diversified economic model recommended here to work in our region and state, we can flatten the economic curve and begin the long-road to recovery and sustained growth through a diversified economic model we call “FL NEXT.”
That is the subject detailed in our next paper, “FL NEXT: How to Attract, Retain, and Grow our 21st Century Space Coast Economy.”