For the first time, Williamson, Inc. held its monthly Policy Talks digitally on Friday, streaming live on the WC-TV Youtube channel with three Tennessee legislators to discuss how Williamson County and state legislation have been affected by COVID-19.
Recently, Tennesseans have seen a 1,300 percent increase in unemployment, major unexpected budget cuts from the state and many small businesses face uncertain futures, but State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, District 65 State Rep. Sam Whitson and District 63 State Rep. Glen Casada expressed confidence that all will prevail.
“This is America, and we get through these things — depressions, war, economic downturns, and chaos — and I think we will be fine,” Whitson said.
Casada sees a lot of fear and many people calling for a shutdown, but he also compared the coronavirus situation to the H1N1, or swine flu, pandemic in 2009, which infected more than 60 million Americans and killed nearly 12,500.
“We’ve been here before," he said. "This is not new, but I’m impressed with the way the governor has mobilized the state, activated the health care industry, activated volunteerism, and Tennessee is responding very well to this scare.”
In light of controversy at the federal level, conversation moderator Dave Crouch asked the legislators when Tennesseans should expect to return to work. Johnson said he does not think a “cookie-cutter approach” is appropriate, sharing that higher-density areas like Davidson and Williamson counties tend to create “hot spots” for the virus.
“We need to recognize that different areas of the country, different areas of the state (are) probably going to have different needs in terms of how this is treated and how we respond to it,” he said.
For the time being, Johnson explained several deadlines have been extended to allow for social distancing and self-isolation, including tax filing dates, emissions tests for automotive registration renewals and the looming REAL ID deadline, which has been postponed a full year to October 2021.
Legislators talk business
Moving into an economic discussion, Johnson encouraged small business owners to take advantage of all resources on both the federal and state levels.
“Probably your smaller businesses are going to be the ones that are more susceptible to the impact of this and less able to sustain themselves for a prolonged period of time,” he said.
The Williamson, Inc. team is partnering with the Nashville Chamber of Commerce for a webinar to discuss business topics relating to COVID-19 at noon on Friday, March 27. It is also launching a weekly digital event of its own called “Topics of Today,” which Kel McDowell, the director of government affairs at Williamson, Inc., will kick off Monday, discussing Small Business Administration Disaster Loans. Through these events, the chamber hopes to guide local businesses through this pandemic and lead them to the proper resources.
The legislators also shared they are pleased with the resources individuals have available to them as well, such as unemployment benefits and the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
“Some … like to criticize the legislature for being so cautious, for having so much money in savings, for having so much money held back, but this is why,” Casada said. “Things happen, and now we’re prepared, and most states are not.”
Johnson also emphasized collecting unemployment checks is not the same as welfare and encouraged all laid-off workers to collect these benefits.
“You lost your job through no fault of your own. You’re entitled to that money,” he said. “Anyone who’s ever employed anyone pays money into the unemployment insurance compensation fund.”
Whitson commended the state for expanding the team working at the unemployment insurance department to help handle the influx of claims.
Effects of COVID-19 on students
Finally, for all the worried students and families, Johnson said the state does not wish to hold any student back because of this pandemic.
The state recently waived the requirement for schools to hold 180 total instructional days and end-of-semester testing. Williamson County Schools Superintendent Jason Golden has also recently shared schools will know more about how graduations will be effected following the State Board of Education’s meeting on April 9, but Johnson added that graduation should not be hindered.
“All kids will advance. If they were on track to advance from fifth grade to sixth grade, they will advance. Those who are set to graduate will graduate,” Johnson said. “No one’s going to be penalized because of this.”
Whitson expressed his pride in the ways WCS and Franklin Special School District are caring for their families, whether through food distribution or provisions for electronic devices.
Johnson said he's confident the county will spring back following the outbreak.
“We’ll get through this, and we’ll hopefully get this economy back on its feet,” he said. “Williamson County is and will continue to be an economic engine of the state, and we can be proud of that, and we’ve just got to get it back going whenever we can do so safely.”
For more information on Williamson, Inc. events, visit www.williamsonchamber.com.