By Esteban Bovo
Everyone in our community, from all industries and ages, are waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel. Parents and children have been forced into a new learning environment overnight. Shuttered small business anxiously wanting to reopen. The people of Miami-Dade have demonstrated incredible patience and because of it, our community has overcome this novel virus. The time invested in keeping each other safe, requires that we take measured steps that continue safeguarding the health of our residents, while reopening our economy.
That’s why during the last several weeks, I started a conversation with industry and community leaders of Miami-Dade County’s District 13 to discuss what a reopening looks like to them. A reopening plan is not and should not look the same for all areas of our County, which rely on different sectors of our economy. The District 13 Economic Recovery Task Force (“Task Force”) discussed the circumstances of the district within four areas, divided into the following working groups: Healthcare, Education and Community, Hospitality and Small Businesses, and Finance and Professionals.
The healthcare professionals reiterated how personal protective equipment (“PPE”) and other sanitary measures will become part of our “new normal”. The working group discussed creating a sanitation certification program that will both create an ideal work setting and give customers peace of mind. Our discussions also focused on the deteriorating mental health in our community. Many seniors are at home with absolutely no human interaction due to their vulnerable state. Many families may be financially affected as unemployment continues to grow. I plan to work with mental health professionals on ways we can proactively help our community.
Opening our economy has a direct impact on our children and childcare programs, and must be opened in tandem. Most parents do not have “safe” childcare in place for their children or may fear to utilize their usual childcare program. Our childcare programs need to be equipped for proper and safe care. The working group also discussed the importance of preparing for the influx of minors that will not have summer activities or jobs, which may be detrimental to areas of our community. Businesses should be encouraged to allow telecommuting as much as possible to assist parents with these unforeseen circumstances.
The small business discussions reiterated the importance of compartmentalizing a reopening plan and evaluating each industry at a micro-level. Each industry has its own needs, and within each industry there are varied sizes. As we have recently witnessed with the County’s action plan to reopen open spaces, we must evaluate each area closely and adopt individual measures. Small business owners and banking leaders both expressed the need for financial assistance.
I plan to work with Mayor Carlos Gimenez to expand our mom and pop program to offer financial assistance to our small businesses. Our county also needs to explore the ability to extend the early payment discount on all timely property tax payments. A common theme in our conversations was a need to educate and interact with our community. Our Task Force will be leading a series of webinars led by members to discuss important topics, such as mental health, legal impacts on small businesses, and business best practice.
There are several fundamental factors to successfully reopen the County. First, better intergovernmental communication and coordination. Even though the circumstances of each County district and municipality may vary, there must be greater coordination between municipalities and Miami-Dade County as we look to announce each policy concerning reopening.
It’s the least local government can do to avoid further confusion and stress on residents. Second, we must strike the appropriate balance between prioritizing protecting residents, especially the most vulnerable, and restarting our economy. There may be times when the two are in conflict. If so, safety should always prevail. And third, we must have the flexibility to adjust as needed. [This past weekend marina fiasco, demonstrated that what was conceived in theory is not necessarily realistic.]
We must be prepared to make accommodations and correct course as needed. I look forward to the continued input from the Task Force. Their real-life experience and on-the-ground feedback is vital to know what works best and what requires correction.
For all of us, these are all new and unprecedented challenges. Many of the measures that have become part of our daily routine may become permanent, while others may be phased out. We must keep in mind that the manual for this new reality is being written by all of us, each day, and will require our continued patience and commitment to each other to succeed.
Esteban “Steve” Bovo
Miami-Dade County Commissioner