Though the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt Burbank’s jobs and businesses, its mayor says the city is carrying out a plan to help alleviate some of the financial damage.
Emphasizing that the full extent of the coronavirus’ economic impact remains to be seen, Mayor Sharon Springer noted in a phone interview that she expects some of Burbank’s small businesses to close permanently due to economic hardship. At the same time, she highlighted some resources that the city believes could help those struggling monetarily.
Springer pointed to the city’s Economic Recovery Plan, a document approved by the City Council in May that outlines several policies to help Burbank withstand the economic drought brought on by the pandemic.
Many of the points listed in the plan are aimed at promoting local businesses and disseminating information. For example, the city is using social media to advertise webinars that offer tips and strategies to businesses trying to weather the economic storm, and the plan also notes that businesses should be kept aware of shifting health orders that may impact their operations.
“I think a major benefit of that is to let our community know what is opening, what’s the timing on it, because everybody is just so ready to go out,” Springer explained by phone. “But we must be careful.”
Some provisions are more material. Applications for a rental assistance program offering residents impacted by the pandemic up to $800 a month for up to three months were available June 22 until Friday. And a program giving loans of $5,000 to $10,000 to small businesses is taking applications until July 10.
But while the city can offer some support to residents, many of its initiatives — including those assistance programs — depend largely on state and federal funding, Springer said.
“We need to keep the cash flowing,” she explained. “That’s the goal: keep everybody housed, everybody employed as best as possible, get them reemployed — because we don’t want to lose anybody.”
And that cash doesn’t always flow easily. Many cities are waiting for another stimulus package that will allow them to ease the economic effects of the pandemic.
“We’re OK for right this minute, but we’re facing a deficit,” Springer said. “We absolutely need state and federal money to keep us going and to help our tenants and small businesses and keep our transportation programs going. It’s critical.”
A workload budget was passed by the City Council in May, and Springer said the panel will likely review an updated budget in late July.
Springer also acknowledged that some residents are still waiting for their unemployment checks to arrive. One person she spoke with had yet to receive a payment 2 1/2 months after applying for assistance.
State Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, whose district includes Burbank, said in a phone interview that her staff spends nearly all of its time working with people trying to get assistance funds. While she encourages anyone experiencing issues with the state’s Employment Development Department to contact her office, she admitted that “the EDD has been completely overwhelmed.”
The EDD has hired thousands of additional workers to assist with claims, Friedman said, but training and software upgrades may still slow down the department.
In the meantime, Springer encourages residents still waiting on unemployment aid to reach out to their state representatives.
SOME HOMELESS SHELTERED
The city’s Economic Recovery Plan also contains provisions for one of its more vulnerable populations: the homeless. Portable toilets were set up by the city, and workers sanitize common “touchpoints” such as benches and crossing-light buttons.
Robert Newman, who works for StreetPlus, a social services outreach company that has a contract with Burbank, said the organization has also placed at least a dozen people from Burbank who have experienced homelessness into Los Angeles County’s Project Room Key initiative. The program shelters homeless people who are at high risk for hospitalization in hotels.
“We’re kind of out-of-the-box thinkers,” Newman said.
Springer acknowledged that some people, particularly those struggling financially, may not see a way through the pandemic. She encouraged residents to support businesses as they reopen, but added that members of the community may also need emotional support.
“We can do our best with providing food, clothing and shelter, but then there’s that inherent emotional and psychological and spiritual well-being that also needs care,” she said.
Though the pandemic and its associated economic disruption have brought many struggles for the community, Springer said she hopes that lessons the city has learned — the importance of empathy and support for small businesses, for example — remain.
“I don’t want us to waste the pandemic,” she said. “The positive things that we’ve learned from this. I’d like for us to carry them forward in a better, positive way.”