NEW ORLEANS - New Orleans City Council Vice President Jason Williams has released the following statement in response to the Urban League of Louisiana's "Essential Strategies for Equitable COVID-19 Response in Louisiana" to help guide efforts to increase the health and safety of vulnerable populations:
"I absolutely endorse and appreciate the Urban League's 'Essential Strategies for Equitable COVID-19 Response in Louisiana,' as well as their support of Governor John Bel Edwards, Mayor LaToya Cantrell and their respective teams for their leadership and transparency in this crisis.
Nearly every city in the world is architecting the next phase of this new normal after imposing a self-induced coma on their economies in a triage response to this global pandemic. Cities have redefined what essential jobs truly are. We have all been forced to ask ourselves, who really keeps us going. Is it healthcare workers, janitors, garbage handlers, grocery store clerks, or bus drivers?
Now we must all redesign the floor plans for schools, courts, grocery stores, banks, restaurants, government buildings and the like to reduce rates of virus spread going forward. No place will be the same after COVID-19, regardless of the death rate of any given city. We cannot flip a switch and go back to who we were and how we lived back in December. It has changed not only how we live but has also forever changed how we see and care for each other.
We need to ask ourselves how we make the changes today that we have only talked about in the past. The Urban League's strategies speak squarely to those disparities. Katrina changed us. September 11th changed us. COVID-19 has and is changing us. With the timing of it based on data and science, we need to pivot from our triage crisis response and make this a moment of exponential learning and growth rooted in equity.
We must account for those people and industries that have endured the highest physical risk of exposure to this virus. Everyone is singing the praises of our frontline heroes and thanking them for their sacrifice. These folks have risked infection and bringing that infection back home to their families every day since this crisis began. They deserve more than just a pat on the back. Healthcare workers, janitors & grocery store clerks deserve hazard pay. The federal government should institute a hazard pay protocol that funds these employers so they can properly payout to those residents that are taking the most risks to get us through this. If the federal government can fund forgivable loans to huge publicly held corporations, they certainly can fund this. Hazard pay should be prioritized and at the front of the line.
During my tenure on the City Council, I have supported local measures and lobbied federal and state partners to increase the minimum wage. Perhaps the glaring disparities in CoViD-19 death rates will make clear the desperate need to create new pathways out of generational poverty. Poverty is the true root cause of these underlying conditions that have led to deaths.
For the foreseeable future, the City of New Orleans will no doubt benefit from and rely on this increase in the community's purchasing power. This pandemic should certainly drive home the importance of our working class to the larger economy. It will be magnified even more when we emerge without the benefit of tourists supporting our local businesses, restaurants and hotels during this rebound period.
Opportunities are ripe and the time is now to support small businesses in exploring and scaling up for new market needs in manufacturing, environmental and industrial services. This crisis will require us to clean and sanitize our facilities and buildings in ways that we never have before, perhaps multiple times a day. We are also approaching hurricane season. Water management is essential to keeping water out of homes, businesses and cars. This crisis presents a unique opportunity to invest in and support local entrepreneurs and businesses.
You don't wait until you're in peril to plan for the possibility of perilous scenarios. In that same vein, we can't wait for the order to re-open to plan for that eventuality. With a thoughtful and detailed plan in place on the front end, we can mitigate further losses to families and businesses, but also posture ourselves to take advantage of limited resources the rest of the nation is competing for by ensuring our affairs are in order. This global economic pause creates the time and space for New Orleans to have real discussions about the development of a sustainable and equitable tourism strategy.
'The Reform, Recover, Re-Open: Essential Strategies for Equitable COVID-19 Response in Louisiana' contains some concrete steps that the public and private sectors should take to ensure the public health and economic security for all New Orleanians in the post-COVID world. New Orleans can and should emerge from the crisis more resilient, more equitable and more prepared for the next crisis, whether it be rising water or an invisible threat like this one."