Airway Heights officials set out to hear what businesses need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, after their listening tour, city leaders are looking to use federal relief money to help alleviate the pain local businesses – and their employees – are feeling.
The city is preparing to launch several initiatives with its cut from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Based on its population, Airway Heights received $268,000 through the federal relief program approved by Congress in March.
The relief money will fund, in part, summer child care for employees of local businesses and city employees who live elsewhere, as well as the launch of business navigators who will help Airway Heights companies adapt to the evolving regulatory landscape during COVID-19.
The City Council adopted a framework last month for spending its CARES Act dollars after city staff reached out to 46 local businesses, which together employ about 800 people, to learn about the challenges they are experiencing.
Rather than rely solely on the city’s online survey of businesses, city officials spoke with business owners and managers one-on-one.
From that process, the city came away with several common themes, including trouble accessing personal protective equipment like gloves and disinfectant and challenges in securing child care for their employees, who were increasingly absent from work because their children were home.
Some businesses – most of which did not offer hazard pay to their essential workers, city officials learned – expressed concern that enhanced unemployment benefits had created disincentives for people considering a return to work following layoffs and furloughs. Other businesses struggled to keep up with the changes in regulations through the pandemic.
Based on the business community’s experience, the city has begun to formulate a response.
The city has provided child care in other forms, such as summer camps, prior to COVID-19, according to City Manager Albert Tripp. Building on that experience, the city engineered a child care service that will comply with best practices and public health guidance during COVID-19, Tripp said, such as limiting the number of kids and placing them in small groups.
As a child care location, the City Recreation Center on West Deno Road can accommodate up to 54 kids and will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. through August 28. It will serve children primarily between ages 7 and 12. The cost will be $115 per week, and the center will be operated and overseen by city employees. It will open as soon as there are enough children registered.
Later this month, the city expects to start a business navigator program, helping businesses interpret regulations specific to their industry. It also expects to hold a job fair in an effort to help businesses find qualified employees. Details of both efforts are forthcoming, according to Tripp.
Airway Heights has focused less on PPE access after Spokane County announced it would dedicate a portion of its CARES Act funding to help businesses across the county acquire PPE.
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