Two Chamber of Commerce units hosted a video conference on Wednesday May 6 with elected leaders of the south Miami-Dade region.
The topic was COVID-19 updates and strategies to reopen the economy.
Attending were Chamber directors, Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, state Representative Javier Fernandez, plus five mayors and a councilmember. Peter England, director of the Economic Development Council, also participated.
Dr. Joe Webb chair of the South Dade Chamber said, “With collaboration, we can do more, to come out of this thing better than when we started.”
Representative Fernandez said over one million unique unemployment compensation claims were filed with $900 million in benefits finally paid or about 44% of total claims. The average payment was $1500 in combined federal and state benefits.
“The Governor modified his state-at-home order with the exception of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties,” Fernandez said. “Seniors are still advised to shelter in place. Restaurants are allowed to open at 25% of current capacity. Hospitals are allowed to perform elective surgeries, provided they can convert back to COVID-dedicated beds if needed.”
Fernandez shared current COVID statistical trend lines showing an increase in positive responses.
“Testing capacity is the issue,” he said. “We should test thirty three thousand daily but our average now is at 17,000. There’s a crisis of confidence too. We want to reassure those who travel to Florida that folks can get to work safely and visit local businesses without putting others at risk.”
Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava focused how to reopen responsibly and asked how will we know when we’re ready?
“We have to monitor new infections and should have a fourteen day decline in hospitalizations and deaths on average, but we’re not there yet,” the Commissioner said. “There must be massive testing – 81,000 diagnostic tests a month total and we’re not even in the ballpark. We need to do aggressive tracing too. They’re like sleuth investigators. We are not committed to doing this yet.”
“These are the things that were successful in countries that were able to curb the spread,” said Commissioner Cava. “We must mobilize a pandemic resilient economy to limit the illness to one affected individual otherwise its exposing all of us to undue risk.”
Homestead Mayor Steve Losner said City employees were working remotely for more than seven weeks and it’s going well. “There was a virtual Council meeting in April and I expect our charter review meetings to continue next week, as well as the development moratorium workshops,” Mayor Losner said.
“My community is ready to go back to work and needs to go back to work,” the Mayor said. “We’re already aware of long-term multi-generational businesses that will not be reopened as well as newer businesses. We’re focused on what we’ll face after the pandemic quarantine.”
Losner said Homestead’s next CRA meeting would consider significant funding for commercial and residential rental assistance. “I’m advocating that we do what we need to do to reopen and get on par with the rest of the state as soon as possible,” the Mayor said.
Mayor Otis Wallace of Florida City said, “Governmental operations are as normal as they can be with all municipal services provided and employees working from home.”
The city was following County rules on reopening. “Parks opened on Monday, but not the tot lots, with monitoring by park personnel. People are cooperating and are encouraged to wear masks. The business community is also cooperating.”
The Mayor said his CRA office wanted to provide assistance to businesses that keep their employees. “We’re trying to tie the two together to provide a direct benefit to employees too,” Mayor Wallace said. “We’re also looking into rental assistance but don’t have enough information yet.”
“As long as we make the decision to reopen with science and with considered information, it makes sense to try to get everyone back to work,” the Mayor said.
The Economic Development Council (EDC) was formed in 1993 after Hurricane Andrew. It was developing a strategic plan for south Dade under a federal grant when the pandemic struck.
Executive Director Peter England said its mission was job creation.
“We’re trying to hang on to what we’ve got,” England said. “There is great anxiety among business owners on reopening but public safety is the overarching issue.”
England suggested business surveys would provide local research on the situation so the EDC could plan for the future. He also urged municipalities to list their underfunded infrastructure needs for the congressional delegation.
“The next stimulus should have funding for infrastructure,” he said. “We want to go to the head of the line when the money is handed out. The construction industry is identified as one that can come back early and quickly and we want to put people to work to restart our economy.”
Councilmember Roger Coriat of Cutler Bay said 80% of his city’s employees were working remotely. Cutler Bay’s Council was working to recognize high school graduations at the next regular meeting on May 20. Coriat also urged the cities to promote the U.S. Census to improve 2010’s 70% response rate as the area is historically under-represented.
Commissioner Cava spoke to the revenue impact to the County budget. She said the County was ensured enough transit funding to make up the deficit, with funding for the airport and the port, and FEMA reimbursement for emergency food programs.
A shortfall of $150 million would not be as big an impact next fiscal year as thought, depending on any decline in property values.