Don’t tell me I’m not desperate, because I am. Like most of the businesses that our readers know and love, the Weekly is small. And like most of them, we also applied for forgivable loans from the federal government. We fit the chief criterion: We do not have more than 500 employees in our building. After our recent layoffs, we are down to seven plus some trusty offsite freelancers. We define the “S” in the alleged “Small Business Administration,” the federal organization that oversaw the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The $350 billion package was intended to help “small” businesses. What we did not know is that the SBA has a funny definition of the term “small.” The winners of the PPP sweepstakes were lots of monster corporations. The company that owns the Ruth’s Chris Steak House chain received a $20 million payout despite possessing $86 million cash on hand and recently furloughing “a significant number” of field and office team employees, the company said. The heartwarming news is that the chief executives, martyrs to the core, are taking a pay cut, going from a bajillion dollars a year to only a gazillion.
As legally required, more than 70 publically traded companies reported receiving money from the program. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) was outraged, telling the Washington Post that “companies that are not being harmed at all by the coronavirus crisis have the ability to receive taxpayer-funded loans that can be forgiven. … I am concerned that many businesses with thousands of employees have found loopholes to qualify for these loans meant for small businesses. Unfortunately, when it comes to the PPP, millions of dollars are being wasted.”
Though we Weeklyfolk are down with PPP, we have not heard back about our submission and, honestly, do not expect to. As lawmakers consider another multibillion-dollar round of forgivable loans, or PPP, we are prepared to go through the rigmarole all over again. We will marshal hopefulness to keep our spirits up. While applications are on a first-come/first-served basis, there is a pecking order of industries, according to the SBA. At the top of the recent awards was “Construction,” followed in descending order by “Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services,” “Manufacturing,” “Health Care and Social Assistance,” and “Accommodations and Food Services.” Down near the bottom, right below “Educational Services” but above “Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation” and “Mining,” that’s where you’ll find “Information,” which I’m supposing includes local rags. We Weeklyfolk can only hope, because as a non-divisive, non-self-enriching, real national leader once said, “Keep hope alive!”
More than staying in business, we hope the curve starts trending downward soon because we’re big fans of existing life and aren’t really appreciative of needless death. In this endeavor, we will also marshal hope, because the outlook isn’t great. The low numbers recently reported by the Tarrant County Health Department –– three straight days of single-digit cases after 11 consecutive days of nearly 40 or more –– might be a mirage. County officials said the low numbers could be due to a temporary lag in reported lab results. As of Tuesday, April 21, Tarrant County has confirmed 1,249 COVID-19 cases, including 208 recoveries. As testing increases, as it is supposed to later this month or by early May, according to Gov. Greg Abbott, we can expect more cases, more recoveries, and certainly more bad news. The county also reported its 39th COVID-19-related death on Tuesday. Texas ranks near the bottom of the country in testing totals.
The only way the curve is going to start flattening or better is if we Texans keep practicing social distancing. What we do not need, Greg Abbott, is for businesses to reopen too soon. Last week, the governor announced a strategy to open Texas back up incrementally. Despite closing schools for the 2019-20 year, he said that state parks would reopen, hospitals would be able to perform some non-elective surgeries, and that retailers would be allowed to deliver items or offer them for pickup.
If this week goes well, Abbott said, he intends to use Monday, April 27, as the day to announce the reopening of Texas bars, bar/restaurants, and theaters with social distancing in place, which may mean they open at half-capacity and with employees in facemasks.
“If I am honest,” recently wrote Megan Henderson, director of events and communications for the urban development nonprofit Near Southside, Inc., “we are not hearing anything about our businesses being able to change anything by Friday. The governor’s new policy really doesn’t favor small business, as most of our small guys have been already conducting business via online sales (if possible for them, as not everyone can showcase their entire inventory online) and simply delivering orders or sending them via mail. Friday does not really signal a change for our community. That’s what our small businesses are reporting.”
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price is not bullish on reopening anytime soon either. In a TV interview recently, she did not acknowledge Abbott’s plan, instead deciding to stick to the national guidelines set forth by the current presidential administration. One of them, a big one, includes a downward trajectory of new cases for 14 days before reopening can even be entertained.
“We know that we can meet the hospital responses, but we’re not meeting the 14 days of declining just yet,” Price said.
One way to tell if a local politician has done something right is by listening to the chorus of naysayers on the right. Most Texas conservatives were not pleased with Abbott’s executive orders. One right-winger called them “a plan to reopen an economy that should have never been closed to begin with, politicians coming up with solutions for problems they created.”
We, however, are glad that Abbott understands that COVID-19 is not the flu and that we have no vaccine for it or built-up immunity to it. Like most people who aren’t brainwashed by one certain “news” channel, he understands.
Most Americans don’t want to reopen now anyway. Nearly 60 percent of us are concerned that loosening restrictions too soon will result in a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Thirty-two percent are worried the restrictions will stay in place for too long while 3 percent are worried about both scenarios. You can count me among this last group, though “too long,” to me, means “a month after the curve has begun to dip down.”
The other day I walked into an essential business, and on the way in to purchase an essential 750-ml. bottle of Kraken and an essential 12-pack of Bud Light, I ran into a good buddy of mine. After bumping elbows, we chatted for a bit. I felt a little ridiculous in my homemade facemask as he stood there talking with a visible, wide-open mouth and nose like normal. I also thought maybe he was judging me a little, like maybe I wasn’t manly enough to go buy essentials without caving into the alleged fear-mongering going on (according to that one certain “news” channel). I’m still glad I wore it.
I don’t know about you, but I caught the flu a couple of years ago. I wouldn’t wish it on the worst Trump family member. (Note: That would be Donald J.) Coughing nonstop, running a high temperature, and not being able to sleep because I was constantly trying to cough up the phlegm stuck in my throat, I was capital-M Miserable. As I waltzed into that essential business the other day, paid for my delicious essentials, and waltzed back out, I kept thinking of those days when I couldn’t clear my throat and couldn’t sleep. I don’t care how dorky I look or may be, I’m not going anywhere anymore without a facemask now. You shouldn’t either.
My social media feed has been full of friends and “friends” claiming they now have no plans on eating at Ruth’s Chris anytime soon, which is kind of like saying you’re giving up launching yourself into the sun every day. I appreciate the sentiment and feel it myself. I only hope the employees are feeling the same way. I only hope that worker bees all over the country are feeling this way, because there needs to be a reckoning for the ineptitude and ignorance that doomed us. What I’m hoping for, basically, is a $100,000 Ruth’s Chris gift card. Solidarity among worker bees is a dream as long as racism not only exists but is fueled by the devils passing themselves off as leaders today. As The Atlantic says, “Poor Americans don’t uniformly support greater government intervention on behalf of workers, and it’s not clear whether the pandemic is going to shift those hardened political fault lines. In the past few decades, many low-income whites have become allied with other whites, not with other poor people.”
The closures are coming. Make no mistake about that. Small operations all over the world are going to shut their doors for good. Maybe even us. I’m as desperate as anyone else to reignite the economy yesterday. I’m still not going to risk my life or the health of my family for it. As a formerly low-income white guy and his hard-rock band once sang, “Need a little patience. Yeeeeeeah, yeah.”
The Weekly welcomes editorials from all political persuasions. Please email Editor Anthony Mariani at email@example.com.