Page 12 - BusinessWest September 1, 2021
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WThe Challenges Keep Multiplying
ay back in mid-March of 2020, as the state was shut- far—asinfar—fromover.
ting down due to COVID-19, we wrote about the great Indeed, just as those who went home in March 2020 thinking it resiliency of this region’s business community and would be for just a few weeks soon learned how wrong those pro-
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 how it would be sternly tested because this was the greatest challenge anyone in business had ever faced.
Little did we know then just how stern this test was going to be and how long it would last. But 18 months later, not only do the challenges remain, but they have in many ways multiplied. Thus, a time that many thought would be normal — meaning what we knew in the fall of 2019, or at least something approximating it — is nothing like we imagined.
Indeed, this was expected by many to be a time when most of the hard decisions would be behind us. Decisions about whether to lay off or furlough people. Decisions about whether to forge ahead with programs and events that would bring people together in large numbers. Even decisions about whether to stay in business — or certain kinds of business.
As summer comes to a close and a fall shrouded by question marks looms, we’re facing some of those decisions again (or still) — and some new ones as well.
Some businesses may be forced to look again at mask mandates or at requiring proof of vaccination before one can enter an estab- lishment or even a college campus. Others have already made vac- cination a requirement for employment, and many others are con- templating whether to go this same route.
These are hard decisions that often put employers at odds with their customers and employees at a time when they simply don’t need to be alienating either constituency.
All of this makes it clear that the fight against this pandemic is
LA Step in the Right Direction
jections were, we’re all now forced to recalibrate, again, just how long we’ll be battling this pandemic and how heavy the fight will get.
What is clear is that the victory celebrations, if we can call them that, from just before Memorial Day, when the governor removed all remaining restrictions on businesses, were certainly premature.
Meanwhile, there are new challenges, from shortages of needed goods and raw materials to escalating prices and hard choices about if and how to pass them on to customers who are finally coming back in large numbers. Then, there’s a workforce crisis that has impacted almost every business sector and forced several types of businesses to reduce hours of operation, curtail services, or both.
There is hope that, with the end this month of the federal bonus being paid to those receiving unemployment benefits, things will improve on this front. But those hopes are countered by the reality that this problem is deep-rooted, and it may be some time before there is real relief.
And there are still more hard choices about whether, when, and how to bring workers back to the office, decisions now made even more difficult by the Delta variant and the great uncertainty about what this fall will be like.
Going back to what we wrote in March 2020 ... this region’s busi- ness community is, indeed, resilient. And it needs to be. Because, contrary to what we were all hoping, it isn’t any easier being in busi- ness now than it was then. And in many ways, it’s even harder. v
  ate last month, Gov. Charlie Baker, some people are paying more than lip ser- not when the state has roughly $5 billion in heeding a call from a number of vice to the plight of the state’s businesses, federal American Rescue Plan Act funds at business groups that have steadily which have often been overlooked when its disposal and the huge surplus from FY
pushed for unemployment-insurance (UI) relief, proposed using $1 billion in state surplus money to help ease the burden facing the state’s business com- munity from the widespread layoffs that occurred during the pandemic.
The governor filed a supplemental budget proposal with the Legislature that would set aside the $1 billion for unem- ployment rate relief as part of a broader $1.6 billion plan to spend the bulk of what remains of a massive, $5 billion state bud- get surplus from the fiscal year that ended on June 30.
If approved, the measure certainly won’t cover what is expected to be a $5 billion shortfall in the state’s UI fund — a shortfall that the Baker administration and the Leg- islature decided to address with an assess- ment that businesses will pay over the next 20 years or more — but it will help reduce the burden on the state’s businesses, and it represents a minor breakthrough of sorts when it comes to this administration and the business community.
Baker’s proposal shows that at least
it comes to the long list of victims of this pandemic. Despite large amounts of local, state, and federal assistance in many differ- ent forms, from grants to loans, businesses in many sectors are still struggling in the wake of the pandemic.
This spring and summer have bought some relief to those in many sectors, including hospitality and tourism, but the road back to normal, pre-pandemic levels of revenue and profit is paved with uncer- tainty, especially as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to gain strength.
Businesses are, by and large, and to one degree or another, regaining their footing. But this improved stability, if it can even be called that, is threatened by many different forces — including the huge bill that has come due from so many of the state’s resi- dents being forced into unemployment by the pandemic.
As we’ve said before, the state’s busi- nesses didn’t cause the pandemic, and they should not have to bear the brunt of paying the enormous unemployment-insurance burden now facing the Commonwealth —
2021, resulting from a flood of federal aid and better-than-expected tax revenue. In announcing his proposal regard-
ing unemployment insurance, Baker said “this UI piece would send a big, positive message to employers and employees that we’re looking to try to help them with what is going to be one of the biggest expenses ... because of the pandemic.”
He’s right, but it’s more than a message — it’s a solid step, and hopefully a solid first step — toward addressing the unemploy- ment-insurance deficit.
The Legislature will have a lot on its plate when it gets back in session after Labor Day. We hope the governor’s UI pro- posal gets the proper consideration and eventually becomes part of the plan to spend down the rescue-plan monies and the deficit.
Things are better for the business com- munity, but many challenges remain, and this proposal is a big step in the right direc- tion. v
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