Port: Readers ask about the schools still open, a 'rent vacation' for businesses and what snowbirds should do
The problem with talking about "fairness" right now is that the COVID-19 virus isn't fair to anyone.
MINOT, N.D. — Hello readers, and welcome to the second edition of this mailbag column wherein I respond to your praise and criticism and questions.
If you'd like to send something to be included in the next column, fire it off to email@example.com.
Your messages may get edited for clarity and brevity.
Now, to the questions!
Anonymous asks: I am a teacher. A profession I chose later in life and absolutely love. Burgum closed schools with an executive order but later amended it with a list of schools that can be open. One of those is mine. Any idea of how to get answers on this and why it would be a good idea to close 99% of schools but not those? The teachers and paras that teach at these schools are no different than other teachers. Same degrees and certifications. Same types of families at home with kids at daycare or in need of care as well as spouses that may work in healthcare, childcare, or first responder.
Until this question, I wasn't aware that some schools had been exempted from closing. I relayed this inquiry to Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki, and he provided me with the executive order which listed the exempted schools.
Here's the list, and you can read the full order at the bottom of this column:
"They were exempted for a number of reasons, depending on the type of school/program. Some serve children under public custody of a state human service zone, tribe or the Division of Juvenile Services, or children not in public custody who have been approved for treatment programming," Nowatzki told me. "For those serving at-risk children, keeping the facility/program operating was determined to be in the best interest of the students' well-being. Continuity of services and support for these students is extremely important for their overall well-being."
The goal of closures and quarantine efforts is to reduce interactions as much as possible. Yet stopping some forms of interaction just isn't possible without dire consequences.
Where would we be if we closed our grocery stores, for instance?
Policymakers like Gov. Burgum have to make these calls, balancing the goal of slowing down the virus with the cost, both economically and socially, of shutting down various components of our society.
So far, I think Burgum is doing a pretty good job.
Scott asks: I wonder if the governor should (or should have at the time) issued an order that landlords grant a rent vacation on these businesses? Or a mandatory rent/lease reduction to some reasonable level until the virus impact is over and our government allows restaurants and bars to be open again? This rent should be forgiven if it is to be fair, not merely pushed out. It is unfair, it seems to me and I think to you too, that the governor can make a declaration that will greatly reduce restaurants and bars revenue, yet keep in place the greatest expense or one of the greatest expenses for most restaurants and bars -- their lease or rent on their building.
The problem with talking about "fairness" right now is that the COVID-19 virus isn't fair to anyone. If we grant Scott's request for a sort of "rent holiday" for businesses, what relief can we give the people who are in the business of renting/leasing commercial space?
Where do those dominos stop falling?
Like many parts of the country, we've been having a long-term discussion about the decline in brick-and-mortar businesses. Places like shopping malls are closing, and that's been hard on communities. Many of our state's bars and restaurants are in places like malls.
Should mall owners just take it on the chin?
How many shopping malls are even going to survive this?
There are no easy answers. The state Supreme Court has issued an order halting residential evictions (district courts may "with good cause" allow proceedings in specific evictions), but that wouldn't include commercial properties.
As sympathetic as I am to the motivations behind the Supreme Court's move, as well as the various calls to stop rent collection and evictions, it's hard for me to condone letting people use goods and services without paying for them.
If you eat in a restaurant, you should pay your tab.
If you use someone's apartment or commercial space, you should pay your rent.
I do acknowledge, though, that this virus is costing many people their ability to pay.
I would much prefer relief efforts that enable people and businesses to keep paying their bills during this time (here's my idea for using the Legacy Fund to that end ) than policies that pick winners and losers in terms of who gets paid and who doesn't.
David asks: Has anyone thought about how all the snowbirds coming back will affect the coronavirus in our area?
I haven't heard a lot of discussion about this locally. Or nationally, for that matter. It's a good question, but then there are a lot of good questions right now and a paucity of good answers.
This is also a personal question for me. My parents are in Arizona, and I'm not sure when or if they should come back for the summer.
As it stands now, my non-expert preference would be for them to stay put. Why create risk where none is needed?
If you don't have to travel, then don't. Not right now.
The New York Times recently published some advice from snowbirds, and that seems pretty solid, particularly the bit about driving instead of flying.
Nolan writes: It occurred to me after reading your blog just now that I have never emailed you. I have enjoyed both your blog and podcast for some time. Being a Shanley HS '67 and UND '71 graduate, I still read the Forum online and find your writing a nice compliment to my understanding of not only the Fargo business climate but state politics as well.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .