For nearly one year, Utahns have endured one of the worst health and economic crises of our lifetimes.
The coronavirus has infected more than 362,000 Utahns and taken more than 1,700 lives. Many of our children were sent home from school, more than 16,000 workers have applied for emergency unemployment relief and Salt Lake County lost more than $50 million in local revenue last year.
As mayor of the largest county in our state and a former lead staffer to a member of Congress focused on budgets and economic progress, I fully understand that what Utah and my county now needs is economic stimulus and targeted relief in order to return to prosperity.
In Utah, we are facing a K-shaped recovery, meaning that many have rebounded but others have been left behind. Many Utah counties, including Salt Lake County, are dependent on tourism, and the cliff-like decline in those revenues have not only harmed the bottom line of local budgets, but left waitresses, hotel attendants and downstream tourism-based businesses suffering.
As Washington seeks solutions to supporting our nation’s return to a thriving economy that honors the lessons learned from COVID, and seeks to have our nation emerge stronger than ever, we need a stimulus plan that will provide relief to Utah families, small businesses, and local municipalities. This crisis has changed life as we know it, but, Utahns can take comfort in knowing that help is on the way.
On day one of his presidency, President Joe Biden unveiled a bold legislative package — the American Rescue Plan — to provide the relief funding that will help us defeat the coronavirus, get the economy back on track, and reopen our schools safely.
The American Rescue Plan would provide direct payments of $1,400 to the families that need it most, and ensure that workers who have been displaced are able to pay their bills by providing an additional $400 in unemployment insurance relief.
For small businesses owners in counties like ours who have endured devastating revenue losses, it provides $15 billion in grants. This funding will help more than 1 million of small businesses get back on their feet and stay afloat as we weather this crisis.
For our students desperate for all that traditional school provides, Biden’s plan would help us to reopen schools safely, providing $130 billion to improve ventilation, hire more janitors, provide personal protective equipment, and cover other costs needed to support our students, teachers, faculty, and staff.
And emergency funding for states and local governments like ours provides $350 billion to ensure that we can pay essential workers, safely vaccinate our communities, and continue providing other vital services.
Recently I spent some time at one of Salt Lake County’s two premiere convention centers that has been retooled for vaccine administration. It wasn’t the first time I got a bit emotional to see seniors who have been homebound arrive nervous but leave overjoyed having been vaccinated, ready to see their grandkids again for the first time in months.
I looked around at the high ceilings of a convention center that is no longer welcoming conferences from around the world. I know that these buildings are serving their highest purpose but Salt Lake County’s recovery is not just dependent on its local revenues, it is dependent on cities like Chicago and Sacramento recovering as well, so that tourists and convention-goers can again arrive in mass, dine in our restaurants and bars and stimulate our local economies.
It’s clear that Biden deeply understands the pain that our county and our country are facing. If we are to meet the challenge of this moment, his plan and his calls for bipartisanship must not go unanswered by Congress.
For the past year, millions of hard-working families, small business owners, and state and local governments have been crushed by a virus that doesn’t care whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, whether you live in a small city or a rural town, or whether you own your own business or work in a factory. This pandemic has taken far too many lives and wreaked havoc on the economic stability of far too many families.
Incremental federal relief is not an option. The time is now for comprehensive, bipartisan action to defeat this virus and get the American economy back on track. Congress must pass the American Rescue Plan now.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson is a 5th generation Utahn and the first female Democratic mayor of Salt Lake County.