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TIM BURKE: Small business and tourism need more help from state

Small businesses and the tourism industry need more help to survive this latest round of shutdowns by the governor.

Nevada is experiencing an increase in COVID-19 positive cases and deaths, according to the most recent statistics. According to data from the Department of Health and Human Services, 28 additional deaths were reported across Nevada on Wednesday, bringing the total number of deaths in the state to 704. An additional 1,129 cases of the coronavirus also were reported in the state, as the total number of cases rose to 38,657.

An estimated 18% of the Las Vegas area’s workforce was unemployed in June, down from 28.8% in May, the Nevada Department of Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation, reported Tuesday. The jobs boost came as casinos were allowed to reopen June 4th, more than two months after Gov. Steve Sisolak had ordered them and other Nevada businesses closed to help contain the spread of the new coronavirus. But will unemployment continue to trend downward?

The governor has re-instituted restrictions on some types of businesses, the latest category to again be shut down were bars in seven Nevada counties, leaving many small business owners wondering if they are next on the list. The governor also ordered that everyone, while in public, must wear mandatory facemasks. Will that be enough to stop the increase in COVID cases in Nevada? Or will he again shut down casinos and small businesses?

The relief packages enacted in Washington have had mixed results. The $1,200 stimulus funds handed out at the start of the pandemic was meant to stave off financial collapse, but it coincided with most small businesses ordered to shut down, leaving only companies deemed “essential” to remain open. Those stimulus checks were spent at the big box stores and not at the small businesses that needed it most.

That was followed by the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to help companies to keep their employees on the payroll and to offset certain other business expenses. The clock has started ticking for those businesses to track their expenses and submit data to the government, but many of those businesses are still not open or have been forced to again close.

On Aug. 1, the additional $600 per week (the stimulus package added that) to unemployment benefits ends. The program gave everyone who qualified for unemployment the same added benefit, regardless of their income level before the pandemic. In many instances, unemployed workers were making more money on unemployment with the added benefit than they made while working.

But without an additional amount added to their state unemployment amounts, many residents will be unable to pay their house payments, car payments, utilities, medical costs, and typical day-to-day expenses.

The politicians in Washington, D.C. are working on a new stimulus package, but will it address the issues of the previous packages?

If another round of stimulus checks is issued, will small businesses be open so that the recipients of those funds will be able to patronize those businesses? Will another round of the PPP be added for companies that received funds already but still aren’t open because of government mandates? Will the inequities with the unemployment insurance supplement be fixed and continued?

In Nevada, the money that the state has in its coffers for unemployment benefits is being used up rapidly, and the state will need to borrow money from the federal government to be able to keep paying those benefits. Casinos, especially the Las Vegas Strip properties, are not even close to recovering, with many of the largest casino properties notifying employees of permanent layoffs, further compounding the state’s unemployment issues. Many small business owners, independent contractors, and the self-employed have not received any benefits at all.

The COVID pandemic is going to be with us through at least the end of the year, perhaps longer. Washington has to come up with a stimulus package that takes into account the length of time small businesses and tourist-based industries will need to recover. Set aside politics and get something done in Washington now before more businesses fail!

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at timstake@gmail.com

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