Tazewell, Va. – Local leaders took their case to the federal government May 20.
Senator Mark Warner held a conference call with Mayor Paul Crawford of Richlands, Tazewell Today Director Amanda Hoops, Clinch Valley Health CEO Dr. Peter Mulkey, and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Chris Stacy about the impact of Covid-19 on the county. Crawford said Richlands had taken a major hit financially with 60 businesses delinquent on their license fees.
The mayor said the town’s meals tax funds were way down due to restaurants being closed or limited to drive thru or curbside business. Warner asked his aide Shane Clem to provide the town information on a grant program that could assist small businesses.
Crawford also addressed the town’s flooding problems. “We have had one major flood and another that was almost a major this year,’ he said. He went on to express a concern that there would be more flooding in the same places and people would not be able to deal with it.
Warner said the Federal Emergency Management Agency, (FEMA) uses guidelines that make it difficult for rural communities to qualify for assistance. “It is much easier for a metropolitan area to meet the $3 million threshold than it is for a rural community,’ he said.
Later in the meeting Warner said he was hopeful the Trump administration would relax regulations and allow localities to use CARES funding to offset lost revenue. The way the act is currently written governments have to show expenses directly related to the virus to get reimbursed.
Hoops said Tazewell had seen a reduction in the meals tax and that two of the town’s Main Street restaurants have still not re-opened. She was upbeat about the recent opening of the Back of the Dragon Welcome Center and the arrival of several motorcycles.
Mulkey said the county was blessed to have just six cases of Covid-19 and the hospital had only dealt with two while conducting over 700 tests. He said the inability to perform elective surgeries and other medical procedures coupled with the fact people weren’t going to the doctor had impacted the hospital financially.
He said business was down 70 to 75 percent resulting in the facility furloughing eight percent of its work force. Warner said an advertising campaign might be necessary to get people to return to normal doctor visits.
Stacy said dealing with the unknown was the toughest part for the school system. “We have been told to expect a reduction in lottery funds and sales tax but we haven’t been told how much of a reduction,’ he said.
He said the need for online classes is made difficult due to the lack of broadband service. “We have students and teachers that don’t have internet access because it isn’t available where they live,’ Stacy said.
Warner said he hopes the federal government will develop a program similar to the Rural Electrification Act passed in the 1930’s to deal with the broadband issue. “In the meantime we can turn the power up and put in some temporary antennas and cover 20 to 30 percent more area for very little cost,’ he said.
The senator said there is still money in the paycheck protection program and urged local businesses to apply. Warner said the government is doing everything it can to re-open the country and get the economy back on track.
Unemployment nationwide is at 33 million and the senator said he is seeing projections another two to three million will be added to that total in May. He said 40 percent of the job losses were people making $40,000 or less a year.