LOCAL FALLOUT FROM EMERGENCY
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – In an average week, Alan Sessions, CDO Workforce disability resource coordinator, might field 25 calls about unemployment insurance.
“In the last week, we’ve received 25 calls a day,” he said. “Sometimes the wait to talk with someone is an hour.”
The majority of the calls, he said, are waitstaff, kitchen help and retail workers suddenly jobless as Governor Cuomo ordered stores and restaurants closed in to facilitate “social distancing” and reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“It’s early still, but these are the businesses that were immediately affected,” he said.
Statewide, Department of Labor spokesman Deanna Cohen, said ome regions are seeing up to 1,000 percent increases in unemployment claims.
From Monday, March 16, to Saturday, March 21, there were over 1,734,100 total calls and a 65 percent increase from call numbers on Monday, March 9, which saw just 2,542 calls And there were over 2,270,300 hits on the Department of Labor website, averaging over 250,000 logins per day – a 400 percent increase over the normal average.
With the announcement that Dreams Park will not be opening for the summer – and with the Baseball Hall of Fame, Fenimore and Farmers’ museums closed – Sessions believes a lot more claims have yet to be filed.
“It’s still early, but obviously, the tourism sector is going to be affected,” he said. “It’s hard to predict when those businesses are going to be open, and so many of those workers live paycheck to paycheck.”
Treasurer Alan Ruffles, who is chairing Otsego County’s emergency task force, estimated the county is facing a $3 million shortfall in sales tax revenue.
The state Association of Counties (NYSAC) ran two computer generated predictions – “mild,” showing a $1.9 million sales tax loss, and “severe,” showing a $5.9 million loss.
“My forecast falls right in the middle of that,” Ruffles said. “And that’s just sales tax. They didn’t take bed tax into account.”
By comparison, Ruffles said, summer tourism in 2019 generated $40 million in sales tax, which means businesses generated $504 million.
The state sales-tax projection translates into a $49 million loss at the cash register. “That’s huge,” said Ruffles.
Ruffles’ model shows a $3 million sales-tax loss this tourist season.
“If gas prices drop, if they put in travel bans or we lose Cooperstown All-Star Village, that number will increase,” he said.
Ruffles named Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky to a task force that will look at COVID-19’s economic impact. “It’s a tough time for everyone,” said Zakrevsky. “We’re looking at how we can help the small businesses recover, and how to assist the larger businesses with any additional resources they may need.”
The task force, Zakrevsky said, will have a conference call with other agencies – to be identified by Ruffles – to talk about ways to collaborate, combine resources, and identify opportunities for Otsego County.
The Otsego Now board, which planned to meet Thursday, March 26, will defer loan repayments for 60 days and longer if needed.
“We’re reaching out to the businesses and asking them what they need,” he said. “And businesses are always welcome to reach out to us directly.”
Additionally, the Small Business Development Center is also ready to assist businesses with filling out applications for SBA assistance.
His office is closed and Zakrevsky is working remotely, but he’s planning to use GoToMeeting, a video conferencing software that allows their meetings to be “public” when the building is closed.
“Our number-one priority needs to be the safety of the residents,” said Ruffles. “Our public health director, Heidi Bond, is doing a remarkable job. But at some point, there has to be consideration of the economic effects of COVID-19 down the road.”