In less than a week’s time, the day-to-day schedule of much of the nation’s workforce has been upended. Office employees have transitioned to working from home. The hospitality industry has seen large cutbacks as governors call on bars and restaurants to close and travel comes to a halt. Meanwhile, workers that staff essential roles in the medical field, the food supply chain, and essential public services are being asked to work longer hours with more exposure.
Economic developers know that a robust and productive workforce is the most important aspect of economic health. Companies, communities, and EDOs are taking measures to protect the financial and economic health of their workforce.
Examples of Worker Assistance
Shared Work: In Michigan, on March 16, Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order expanding unemployment benefits which also included a provision to expand the state’s Work Share program, relaxing the amount of the balance that employers must have on hand to utilize the program.
Regional economic development organization, The Right Place, which operates out of Great Falls, shared information with their employers about the Work Share Program on their website.
Clarifying Regulations: In order to clarify state regulations related to childcare and provide employers a better sense of their responsibilities, the Utah Department of Workforce Services and the Utah Department of Health has issued a brief entitled “Child Care and COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions for Businesses”. This informational handout explains how employers can best support their employees with children.
Sharing Resources: In San Diego, the local YMCA runs a program that offers childcare referrals through a hotline; rather than recreate a childcare service, the San Diego Workforce Partnership is promoting this service through their newsletter and on their website.
Supporting Child Care Centers: At the same time that demand increases, child care centers are closing due to health concerns. In Arkansas, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced a daily voucher program to incentivize childcare workers and services to stay open through March 27, the last day the state plans for schools in Arkansas to be closed.
Ohio is enhancing efforts to address mental health and addiction during the COVID-19 epidemic. The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services is launching new telehealth services, including a landline and video chat opportunities with healthcare professionals. Additionally, the state is working on a plan to deliver medications to patients’s homes as facilities begin to limit or prohibit visitors.
Cities are adding mental health and addiction resources to their webpages.The COVID-10 information page for the City of Los Angeles features a flier from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health on “Coping with Stress During Infectious Disease Outbreaks” translated into 13 languages.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority of the City of Pittsburgh has approved the COVID-19 Housing Stabilization Fund to provide short-term assistance in amounts of $3,000 for low- to middle- income residents struggling to pay rent or utilities. This fund is being established with $300,000 from the city’s Housing Opportunity Fund.
More context on each type of assistance is provided below:
In many states, employers who are cutting back hours can take advantage of Shared Work programs, which allow for employers to decrease the number of hours worked, with funds from state workforce or unemployment budgets making up the difference.
This practice, also known as short-time compensation, is an alternative to layoffs for employers facing a reduction in available work. The program allows for employers to maintain a skilled workforce, and alleviates workers fears--and need to look for another job--during times of hardship.
According to the Department of Labor, currently, 27 states have STC programs established in law that meet the new federal definition with 26 having operational programs (Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin).
Employers may be confused about the laws surrounding child care or how to help employees access it. Each state’s laws are different and subject to oversight by different state departments. Just clarifying the rules about childcare can be helpful for employers, especially for those employers that are unable to cease operations.
The examples above show how entities at the state and local level are addressing childcare. The role of economic developers is more often to spread the word about this resource or connect employers to existing services.
The mental health of the public is not often the purview of economic developers, but in times of crisis, all public facing organizations have a responsibility to educate about resources that can potentially save lives.
Small business owners especially may be feeling the mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As documented by studies, such as this one from the Canadian Mental Health Association, small business owners are already at risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. With pressure from families, employees, and creditors, small business owners are at risk, and gaining perspective from therapy, whether online or via telephone.
As workers lose their positions or decrease hours worked, it will become increasingly harder to pay bills and maintain stability. In some places, utilities have waived fees and extended payment periods to assist workers who have lost their jobs. Mortgage assistance, such as the example from Pittsburgh, will help to keep workers impacted by COVID-19 in their homes, and prevent a larger mortgage default crisis.