Governor Mike DeWine said it best: Everyone has to make their own choices regarding the risk of returning to work. We cannot let COVID-19 mean the death of our economy or the American Dream.
More than 22 million Americans have lost their jobs amid the pandemic and filed initial unemployment claims, according to data published by the U.S. Department of Labor last week. Businesses such as retailers, restaurants, hotels, nail salons, mom and pop stores, and other companies continue to close across the country as their customers are forced to stay at home.
As a daughter of a small business owner, there is no question health and safety is the number one priority, but I can tell you first-hand to watch the slow death of a business, after my father built it for over 20 years, is excruciatingly painful for everyone: families, employees, friends, and the community.
I applaud the aggressive measures Ohio took to protect the health and safety of all our families, friends, and neighbors to flatten the curve by a “Stay at Home Order” to ensure social distancing and disinfection guidelines. Thanks to the thoughtful and proactive leadership of the DeWine administration, we continue to equip our health systems with personnel and resources that will deal with a smaller, but inevitable, second wave of disease. Now, we must take personal responsibility for our actions and pivot back to the American dream, revive the economy, and get back to work based on a regional plan.
In Ohio alone, the Ohio Restaurant Association and National Restaurant Association reported 51% of all locations closed and 3% indicate they are permanently closing their business. The hotel and lodging businesses are another key contributor to Ohio’s economy, with more than 42,000 direct jobs and 192,000 supported jobs, they are reporting nearly 90,000 people are out of work due to the pandemic.
Small business is the number one driver of our state’s economy, accounting for almost 98% of all Ohio businesses and employing half of our state’s private-sector workforce. In response to the worst jobless numbers Ohio has faced since the 1980s, House Speaker Larry Householder responded by creating the Ohio 2020 Economic Recovery Task Force which is a bipartisan effort to re-engage Ohio businesses to return to work and prepare for the future.
A “one size fits all” plan will not work for the variety of small businesses in Ohio. Discussion must shift from essential versus non-essential to a risk-based system. Re-opening businesses in phases based on a regional approach is best, while emphasizing mitigation efforts, continued social distancing, good hygiene, disinfection practices, personal protection equipment, limited travel, and telework for those who can work remotely. Vulnerable people such as those who have a health condition or are elderly should be encouraged to stay at home without any penalties, including those from employers. Low mitigation communities where significant spread was never observed should re-open. This is called a business plan – not a government plan.
Government absolutely has an instrumental role to help small businesses survive this pandemic by providing equally aggressive and innovative plans to save businesses – they are pivotal to reviving the economy. Providing guidelines and rules that are critical to the health and safety of citizens will remain crucial. In addition, while small business will require emergency grants that are industry-specific, the state can provide immediate relief by deferring taxes such as sale, payroll, workers’ compensation and property taxes; temporarily suspend licensure requirements, inspections, and other required filings; and support businesses to meet compliance standards instead of overly strict enforcement.
We can value both the protection of human life and the financial strength of small businesses. Public policy demands we balance all factors — it is not a binary choice. A person’s life is often dependent on their ability to work. This is the American dream and it’s worth fighting for. My dad, like many small business owners, has not taken a paycheck for weeks and does not plan to until he is able to take care of his employees and their families. Give small businesses a chance to survive and let Ohioans provide for their families in a safe and dignified manner.
Dublin resident Mehek Cooke is an Indian-born attorney and republican strategist. She served in former Gov. John Kasich’s office and on his presidential campaign. She is a candidate for the Ohio House of Representatives District 21 (Franklin County).