HSMS COVID-19 RESPONSE & UPDATE
These are trying times. No one is spared from the challenges facing us NOW. This is a time where we really must be more concerned about people over profits. Yet, the city must do all it can to protect and lessen the impact or burden on its business portfolio
, keeping in mind that it is much easier to work with existing businesses then allowing them to be a permanent casualty. It is more economical to save existing businesses than to attract a new one.
We must understand and keep in mind that Covid-19 is a human/people health and safety issue that has multiple economic impacts on businesses, including workers having to stay home to protect and care for themselves and/or their love ones. So, how do we handle or encourage social distancing and supporting our businesses? We MUST do both.
Over the past few days, I have been in a whirlwind of meetings and conference calls working non- stop with city officials, my main street counterparts and our corridor businesses to come up with strategies and solutions that will help our business persevere through these tough times. We have submitted a range of policy ideas and concrete options to the city council and government to implement while they too are working on an emergency plan to help everyone. Much of our collective hivemind work was incorporated into the foundation of the first COVID-19 RESPONSE EMERGENCY AMENDMENT ACT OF 2020 passed today.
Below is list of support systems or ideas we submitted and recommended to be put in place:
Financial & policy options
- Creating a city-wide safety net for employees and businesses;
- Support favorable credit terms for businesses that encounter cash flow problems;
- Remove debt and late penalty payment fees for workers;
- Defer bill payments, discount or waiving of fees, create no-interest loans;
- Working with financial institutions to remove late payments and protecting against adverse credit reporting;
- Delay property tax payments and forgive late penalty payment;
- Explore the use of fine monies and allowing the source to be used for business support;
- Extend property tax appeal filings and payment (due to cancellation of the appeals process info meeting where the property tax appeal commission and OTR were supposed to be present.);
- Apply creative options with different DC agencies in extending help to businesses (e.g., ABRA allowing businesses with Class C Tavern License to apply for a temporary off-premise license so they can sell online & to go);
- Establish a citywide moratorium on rental and mortgage payments with adversely impacting credit history;
- Extend license renewal deadlines for professional and business licenses.
Social & grassroots options
- There is a need to educate the customers/consumers/public about the urgency of the issue. The businesses can be a great conduit of disseminating this information - especially to the underserved communities who spend a great deal of time in specific neighborhood storefronts and sidewalks and do not have easy access to internet/Wi-Fi. Businesses should have the best practices and updates posted (Per DOH recommendations). They should also have free sanitizers at every counter; restaurants and bars should start rearranging seating and lines distances, banks too for social distancing - basically a constant reminder of what to do and what not to do. Uniformed information and materials need to be provided free & distributed to businesses. There should be an outreach emergency plan for us & businesses to do our part quickly. We need to deploy front line teams to help our businesses cope with the situation.
- Deep Cleaning - There will be a need for this urgently regardless if cases are identified on the location or not. Perhaps main street programs can work with clean teams to offer the service free preventively and/or as needed.
- Social distancing means very likely physical businesses will have to close if the outbreak continues on its current trajectory. We can offer technical assistance by bringing businesses online quickly for those who do not have a presence or capacity to sell online. There will be a need to enhance//promote/market those who already have an online presence, and collectively create a digital marketing strategy for all the businesses within our footprint for the tough times to come.
- Discrimination – There needs to be policies in place to safeguard potential backlash and unrest targeting certain group of merchants based on erroneous biases to avoid further social unrest.
Anwar Saleem, CMSM
H Street Main Street, Inc.