By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Darren Price and his wife own BP Smokehouse Barbeque, a restaurant located in Tomah, Wisconsin. They used their savings to create the restaurant and things were going considerably well, until the arrival of COVID-19.
Through his Small Business Administration coach, Price heard about the loan programming available for restaurant owners. He applied and received a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
The PPP took care of the staff’s wages, but in the restaurant business the model is cash in and cash out. People think restaurants make all this money, but when revenue is cut by about 65%, the business suffers, he said.
Price’s story is not unique. Businesses across the state of Wisconsin are suffering due to the pandemic and many are blaming the Trump Administration.
“Trump is not a failure,” Price said. “Failure implies you tried to do something, and you failed, they haven’t even tried.”
Earlier this week, Opportunity Wisconsin held a virtual town hall meeting with several guest speakers including Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. Wisconsinites shared their stories and concerns regarding the economic crisis now facing the country.
Reba Krueger, a regional leader with Opportunity Wisconsin, hosted the meeting.
“This health and economic crisis didn’t have to be as bad as it is,” Krueger said, noting that as Wisconsin reopens there is expected to be an increase in the number of cases and potential deaths.
Aid is slow to arrive and the Trump Administration is favoring corporations, she said.
But the pandemic isn’t the only thing on people’s minds.
Barnes noted that in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, many officials are focused on the other pandemic – that of systemic racism.
“These are not two separate conversations,” Barnes said. “You can’t talk about COVID in the state without talking about equity because systemic racism has led to the outcomes, we’re seeing in COVID patients.”
Black and Latinx people make up about 13% of Wisconsin’s population and yet they have the highest number of COVID-19 cases.
What’s happening right now goes beyond law enforcement, Barnes said. It is called policy violence and it plays a role in poverty, environmental conditions, lack of access to family sustaining jobs and access to health care.
The systemic destruction of communities over generations is like internal bleeding, you may not notice it, but if left alone it becomes catastrophic, he said.
The pandemic coupled with recent events creates even more urgency to look at the structural issues, he said. Equity and sustainability need to drive every decision, Barnes said.
He added that the Trump Administration’s response to the pandemic clearly demonstrates its priorities: big corporations and billionaires.
Baldwin also provided her thoughts on the Trump Administration’s response, which have consistently shown to divide instead of unite the nation, she said. Leading up to the pandemic there were so many signs, but they were ignored, she said.
“Some of my chief criticism of the president has been his failure to take this on at the national level by fully invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA),” she said.
According to CNN, the DPA gives the government control over industrial production. In this case, the government could order companies to create essentials such as Personal Protective Equipment, tests and medical equipment.
As Baldwin stated, the role of the government is to look at what is needed, what is currently available and the best way to bridge the gap and domestically produce the necessities. Although the act was invoked in April, Baldwin said it should have happened right away.
She said his second failure was not allowing the Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) do its job. OSHA is there to protect workers and it was unable to do that, Baldwin said.
The pandemic has had a disproportional impact on communities of color and the elderly, she said.
“There’s no going back to where we were before,” she said. “We don’t need to go back to the old days.”
Too many people have been murdered and it is time to get better.
“There has to be a resounding commitment on all our parts to change the system that has led us to where we find ourselves now,” she said.
As the country continues to move forward, the pandemic coupled with recent events proves just how urgent it is that this country moves forward together.