This Friday Facts edition is a coronavirus-focused issue, in light of the unprecedented and uncertain situation in Georgia and as officials and communities work on reducing the impact of COVID-19. To share your thoughts and suggestions, please email the Georgia Public Policy Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read Kyle Wingfield’s update on Foundation operations during the coronavirus outbreak here.
Quotes of Note
“There is nothing like American business. This is what Adam Smith meant when he talked about ‘the invisible hand’ of the marketplace. No government agency directed these companies to step up their services, double their workloads, or give away their products for free. (In fact, government told private labs to stand down when they were ready to develop and distribute test kits.) Yet there they are, anticipating needs, stepping up their orders, doubling their staff, and limiting the sales of certain items (hand sanitizer, toilet paper) through an appeal to good will rather than strict rationing. I shudder to think how all of this will change if our mayors decide to get in on the act and commandeer the stores.” – Jo Ann Skousen
“Mandated leave is not a free benefit for employees; mandated leave comes with a cost that businesses will have to shoulder and will eventually be absorbed by the employer, employees and customers. In a small business with a finite amount of resources, this translates into less money available for wage increases and hiring additional employees.” – Elizabeth Milito, National Federation of Independent Business
The Foundation postponed the event scheduled for Wednesday, March 18, at the Georgian Club. “Brexit: The Good, the Bad and the Messy” will be rescheduled. The plan is to hold the event in May, depending on the status of COVID-19.
Social distancing: As more Atlantans began working from home and businesses closed or reduced staff, MARTA transit ridership dropped precipitously in the first weekend of the pandemic. Compared to the previous weekend, bus ridership dropped 10-20% and rail ridership dropped 25% or more, MARTA told Reporter Newspapers. Rail ridership on Saturday (March 14) alone was down 47%, a gap MARTA suggested may have been related to a March 7 Atlanta United soccer game Downtown.
Funding detours: Public transit ridership has declined in each of the last five years – long before the coronavirus pandemic solution led to social distancing. Nonetheless, in states where the governor has declared a coronavirus-related emergency (including Georgia) the Federal Transit Administration is allowing transit agencies to redirect federal formula funds from capital expenses to coronavirus emergency-related capital and operating expenses, and raised the share of operating expenses covered by the federal government to 80% instead of 50%.
Ride-share: While many employees are working from home, Uber and Lyft drivers continue to work, transporting customers while taking precautions. Being barred from driving could have a devastating impact for those who make their living through ride-share apps. Both companies have promised to provide financial assistance to drivers who test positive for COVID-19 or are placed under individual quarantine by a public health agency. Atlanta is one of 10 cities where Uber is providing drivers with hand sanitizer. Source: Mic.com
Takeout and delivery: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms issued an executive order shutting down all Atlanta restaurants, bars and nightclubs beginning today. The mandate allows restaurants to continue operating with takeout and delivery services only. Bars and nightclubs that do not serve food, gyms, movie theaters, bowling alleys, arcades, and private social clubs must close entirely. Source: Eater Atlanta
Gig economy’s time to shine: Since Uber and Lyft launched the so-called gig economy a decade ago with apps that connect riders with drivers, such apps have made self-isolation easier. These apps let customers order rides, groceries and food delivery through their smartphones. Nowadays, they also help keep restaurants in business and workers employed. Uber Eats is waiving delivery fees for more than 100,000 restaurants to encourage more people to order out, and GrubHub is deferring commissions to independent restaurants. Source: Wall Street Journal
Amazonian hiring spell: Amazon seeks 100,000 new U.S. employees for its warehouse and delivery operations to keep up with demand during the coronavirus outbreak, the company announced this week.
Taxes and spending
Fraudsters: Amid ambitious proposals in Washington to send Americans $1,000 checks to help offset the effects of coronavirus, the Federal Trade Commission is already warning that scammers are planning to get their hands on that cash. “We predict that the scammers are gearing up to take advantage of this,” writes Jennifer Leach, an associate director with the FTC. Source: CNBC.com
Session on hold: On March 13, at the end of the 29th legislative day of Georgia’s 40-day legislative session, the Georgia General Assembly suspended the session indefinitely, “out of an abundance of caution.”
State of emergency: Governor Brian Kemp declared a public health state of emergency on March 14, effective through April 13. On March 16, he ordered all public schools and colleges closed through March 31 “unless extended beyond that date.” On March 17, Kemp signed House Bill 792, the amended FY 2020 budget, with $100 million in emergency funding to address the spread of the coronavirus.
Foundation in the media: WABE-FM (Atlanta Public Radio) interviewed Kyle Wingfield about the governor’s executive powers in a state of emergency.
This month in the archives: In March 10 years ago, the Foundation published, “Georgia Taking the Lead in Cross-State Insurance Legislation.” It noted, “This is the year that Georgia can blaze a trail in the Southeast and across the nation and Georgians can get a head start in consumer choice, through the cross-state/multi-state concepts with full and adequate consumer protections and broad-based comprehensive coverage.” Today, cross-state licensing is in Georgia’s crosshairs.
Visit www.georgiapolicy.org to read the Foundation’s latest commentary, “COVID-19 a Teachable Moment for Georgia Healthcare Policy,” by Kyle Wingfield.
Have a great weekend!
Kyle Wingfield and Benita Dodd
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