BoiseDev caught up with Idaho Gov. Brad Little Friday afternoon at Lit and Co. candles in Boise. The governor made the first retail purchase at the business – the last of several stops across the state.
The governor set May 1 as the day that many retail businesses could start to open after more than a month of closures.
Kristen Jackson, who owns Lit & Co., said curbside business is strong, but she’s looking forward to having customers back in her shop. She posted a set of rules near the door – including limiting capacity to six people, requiring masks, and asking visitors to wear gloves while handing product. And, she’ll keep serving customers who don’t want to go inside.
“We will set aside the very last hour of the day to curbside pickup for people who don’t want to enter the store,” Jackson said.
“Thanks for being here to be part of this economy to get it started up,” Little said of Jackson and other business owners. “It’s very important that these small businesses that we have that they are going to be part of that trajectory to be where we were.”
The governor says he hopes getting businesses open again will help the state’s ailing economy.
“Our velocity to get the economy going back is going to be dependent upon people’s behavioral patterns,” Little said. “We’ve come an incredibly long way in the last 70 days, from one of the last state’s to have a confirmed positive to one of the first states to come out of it. We’ve got to get the economy going. Hopefully, people will see that glimmer of hope at the end of June.”
Lit and Co. opens for business again Saturday, May 2nd.
After Little made his purchases, we asked him about a variety of topics – including the new small business program, unemployment claims, evictions, fall events, his advice to small businesses, and more.
Thursday, KBOI reporter Scott Logan asked Little about unemployment in Idaho. The governor said most folks have been helped. But BoiseDev has had dozens of concerned Idahoans reach out – and other media outlets also reported similar issues. We asked him about his earlier statement.
“I mispoke. Everything is filed. All 117,000 claims have filed, but there are about 40,000 claims that there are questions about. In fact, some of those 117,000 have already gone back to work. There’s about 40,000 in there that we are waiting to get a confirmation from their employer, some of the data they submitted online doesn’t match up, and that’s what a lot of that is. There’s something that needs to be manually handled.”
He said the Idaho Dept. of Labor is working to catch up.
“We have paid overtime, we’ve hired new people, we are training new people. It’s an issue. We had a program that was handling maybe a thousand a month and all of a sudden they had 117,000. Every single state has had this problem. Unemployment was working at two miles an hour and all of a suddent it was going at 90 miles an hour. They didn’t have the people, they didn’t have the resources, and we’re getting there. My sympathy for everyone that is in that category.”
He made a promise.
“I guarantee it’s going to get better. For a while it couldn’t get any worse.”
Little said it should start to improve in the next week and month.
“For the people that are waiting, I feel very sorry for them. For the most part, I know utilities and some of the landlords – people are being as sympathetic to people who are in that category.”
Little said he doesn’t think the state should take action on any type of eviction relief at this stage.
“There’s not a simple answer to it. In some instances, if you say, ‘Brad, you don’t have to pay your rent,’ if Don my landlord has got payments they have to make, then it just transfers the problem. The first thing I’d say is, ‘this economy is not very good. I don’t know how anxious I’d be to evict somebody if there’s no one out there to pick up the rental’. I don’t know of any one thing I could do that wouldn’t transfer the problem from one person to another.”
He offered advice to landlords who may see tenants leaving or who decide to offer rent relief to tenants.
“Be patient. There’s money coming if it’s a small business. There’s the federal money, there are other programs. There’s going to be some of them that are going to have a real problem. The one thing we are probably going to be lucky about is there are some people starting to hire back.
Small business program
The governor announced a plan to dole out $300 million in grants to up to 30,000 businesses. Each business could get $10,000.
“Every state our size was given $1.2 billion. Most spent it on state programs and that was fine, but because we are pretty conservative in Idaho – both state and local government – we had some money there. So we thought ‘how do we comply with the intent of congress?.’ To alleviate some of the impact of this pandemic – and obviously kick-starting some of the small businesses that have been affected is a good idea.”
Any business can apply for the money, except those that got funds from the paycheck protection act. More details should come next week.
“All small businesses are qualified. We think that money ought to go to those businesses and out into the economy so they can come here and buy some of these beautiful candles.”
Summer and fall events
During his news conference Thursday, Little answered our question about fall events – saying he thinks outdoor events might be OK, but cautioned about indoor events. We followed up asked him more about events planned inside throughout the summer and fall.
“There is such a risk because we don’t know all the ways this novel coronavirus works. So I think the prudent thing for anybody is to have backup plans. We could have people come into the State of Idaho, or we could have some behavior in the State of Idaho that creates community spread. The worst-case scenario is we have to tighten up the standards. That doesn’t look like the case right now, but our risk goes up as we open things back up.”