US faces long road ahead on economic recovery from COVID-19

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- Unemployment levels are the highest since the Great Depression and the state of Georgia may need to cut billions from its budget. Now, the coronavirus shut-downs are risking permanent damage to the economy, that’s a warning from US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin this week.

Businesses operate under very strict public health, safety and social-distancing guidelines in the age of coronavirus. (Source: CNN)

As business owners in Georgia and beyond begin opening back up, experts take a look at what must happen to jump-start the economy, while protecting the public from another wave of COVID-19 cases.

“It’s been some tough times here lately," said Bo Henry, a local business owner in Albany.

Henry own local restaurants, a wedding venue and catering business, and a women's boutique in Albany, Ga. While this time of year business is usually booming, the coronavirus is gutting their bottom line.

“We’re down probably – all in all – probably 70 percent," estimated Henry.

But now that the Georgia Governor is lifting restrictions on businesses, Henry says he is gradually opening back up safely with the support of everyone.

“I feel like if anybody can bounce back Albany can," said Henry, praising the community's close-knit nature. "I try to keep a positive attitude and it’s tough right now, but that’s what we have to do."

In March, US restaurants lost 60 percent of their jobs, according to Michelle Constant, who is advising government and private sector leaders through this crisis. Constant says given the industry accounts for about four percent of the nation's GDP (gross domestic product), this is a huge hit to many communities and the US economy overall.

“The more we can move into a reopen, obviously the better off the American economy’s going to be, and the more quickly we’ll be able to bounce back. It’s not going to be the same normal that we had before," said Constant, Constant Associates CEO.

She says the paycheck protection program and economic injury disaster loans have been a lifeline for businesses.

"I know we talk a lot about small businesses and the impacts to restaurants and things like that businesses, but there’s also impacts to businesses that we wouldn’t normally think of in things like hospitals, and COVID-19, it’s going to sting," said Constant.

Another issue: health care systems and hospitals are suffering financially and Constant says many operate on slim profits, and they need elective procedures to make ends meet. But she says until providers have enough personal protective equipment, also known as PPE, they will not be in a good position to offer those services.

“We know hospitals are literally and figuratively bleeding,” said Constant.

Some of the things Constant says the state of Georgia is doing right is using the National Guard to help during this crisis and setting up mobile testing sites in vulnerable communities. However, she says the state still ranks toward the bottom in per capita testing, making it more challenging to gauge how current policies are going.

Constant says the communities hit hardest by coronavirus will also face longer economic recoveries. In order for states to reopen, she says they must have strong testing capabilities, access to PPE, and guidance for residents and businesses on safe practices.

“Many people in America are suffering greatly and inside the underserved and neglected communities, it’s just multiplied," said Scott Turner, White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council executive director.

Turner and Doctor Ben Carson, US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, are leading the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council. Turner says their work is shifting during this coronavirus pandemic, and they are continuing to work with hundreds of thousands of local and state leaders to lift up vulnerable communities in these times. Specifically, he says they want to reach the 52 million Americans living in poverty.

“These communities have been hit very hard, and the citizens inside of these communities have suffered greatly, and so the President has refocused and retooled the White House opportunity revitalization council in a broader sense, with a broader vision to protect and help uplift these distressed communities around the country," said Turner.

For now, the council is meeting and looking at ways to target economic recovery, health care access, housing, education and much more in these distressed communities. The stakeholders on the ground are playing a huge role in coordinating resources, according to Turner.

"We are at work and we are an outcomes-based, results-oriented council that cares deeply about our entire country," said Turner. "We want to work with you and for you and serve you."

He highlighted recent bipartisan measures, such as the two billion dollars included in the recently-approved Cares Act, which will go to community health care centers that serve about 28 million patients inside 13,000 US cities during this COVID-19 response. Turner also spoke to the Department of Education offering relief on student loans and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) distributing four billion dollars in grants to fight homelessness.

Turner also says 60 billion dollars have been set aside for small community banks and credit unions to distribute funds to minority communities needing help through the paycheck protection program. Turner says HUD is offering freezes on foreclosures and evictions during this emergency.

New proposals that the council generates will be presented to President Donald Trump.

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