Three members of Congress from Missouri were named recently to President Donald Trump’s task force to provide guidance on reopening the economy.
“We had our first meeting yesterday,” U.S. Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., said Friday. Long said he favors a graduated reopening of the economy beginning May 4, a date announced last week by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson.
U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley, both Missouri Republicans, also were named to the task force. It consists of 22 House Republicans and 10 Democrats, and every Senate Republican but Mitt Romney and 12 Senate Democrats. Related topics include funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, ways to energize the economy, defining differences between essential and nonessential workers, and relief for small businesses.
Trump has been enlisting advisers from different sectors of American business, medicine and now elected officials. One business panel includes representatives of Tyson Foods, with plants in Noel and Monett; Seaboard, which owns the Butterball plant in Carthage; 3M, with plants in Nevada and Quapaw, Oklahoma; and companies with a large retail presence in the region, including Walmart and Walgreens.
Trump was criticized recently for remarking that he has “total” authority to decide how and when to loosen restrictions in the country — although the Constitution largely delegates such matters to the states. The president later added that he plans to take action “in conjunction with governors.”
Nationwide, more than 690,714 people have been infected with COVID-19, and as many as 35,443 of those had died as of Saturday, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Asked if there was some marker or threshold he wanted to see the country hit that would give him confidence to support reopening the economy, Long said Friday, “I think the opposite.”
He noted that just three weeks ago he was in talks with the Little Rock District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about setting up mobile hospitals in Southwest Missouri.
“We’ve gone from that to right now I believe eight deaths (in the region).”
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services on Saturday reported 31 cases out of the Joplin metropolitan area of Jasper and Newton counties, with no deaths, and about 100 cases and seven deaths in the five-county Springfield metropolitan area. There also has been one death in Taney County. There have been about 157 cases in Long’s congressional district, as of Saturday.
“I’m looking for a spike in cases, a spike in deaths, a spike in anything coronavirus-related, to tell me not to reopen on May 4,” Long said.
Last week, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson extended the statewide stay-at-home order through May 3, adding that on Monday, May 4, “people are going to go back to work.”
He also noted the recovery will “not look the same in every community — our hardest hit areas like St. Louis and Kansas City may take longer to fully recover.”
With the country barreling toward a likely recession ahead of November’s election, Trump is eager to spur an economic revival, hoping to steady financial markets and restore some of the 16 million jobs already lost because of the pandemic. However, medical experts in the government, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, have cautioned that easing up on social distancing and stay-at-home orders too soon could lead to a new round of the disease that would require shuttering the economy again.
A survey of economic damage in Missouri also was released Friday.
As part of a survey of 4,000 member businesses, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry found that 15% expect to permanently close this year because of the pandemic. It also found that 68% of Missouri businesses expect to see revenue declines in 2020, with the average business forecasting a 27% decline. Half of Missouri businesses also expect to enact temporary layoffs this year, with 17% anticipating permanent layoffs.
“For those of us who have spent our careers working to improve Missouri’s economy, what we are facing right now is the challenge of a lifetime. There is no relevant historical guide for a recovery like this,” Daniel Mehan, president and CEO of the state chamber, said in a statement Friday. “We need to begin working on this recovery now to ensure that the economic pause caused by this crisis does not turn into a full stop for sections of our economy.’’
Trump on Thursday laid out a road map that included gradual reopening, easing restrictions in areas with low transmission of the coronavirus, while holding the line in harder-hit locations.
Places with declining infections and strong testing would begin a three-phase gradual reopening of businesses and schools.
In phase one, for instance, the plan recommends strict social distancing for all people in public. Gatherings larger than 10 people are to be avoided and nonessential travel is discouraged.
In phase two, people are encouraged to maximize social distancing and limit gatherings to no more than 50 people unless precautionary measures are taken. Travel could resume.
Phase three envisions a return to normalcy for most Americans, with a focus on identification and isolation of any new infections.
Long said that even though governors and mayors may begin easing restrictions, public confidence will also be important.
“The $64,000 question: Is the public ready?” Long said, noting that his calls are running 50-50, half saying the country should have reopened “three weeks ago” and the other half saying “don’t even think about opening it up.”
“A lot of people are more than ready. A lot of people are wanting to err on the side of caution,” Long added. “We’ve got to stick our toe in the water sometime.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt: “I’m glad to be a part of President Trump’s bipartisan Congressional Economic Task Force. The task force reflects the regional diversity of the country. I hope it produces a helpful result for the president and the nation.”
U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley: “We know what works for New York may not be what we need in Springfield, Missouri. We need to look at the data, let it guide our decisions at a state and regional basis, and get to a sustainable place where we can open back up. If we want to reopen our economy, we need to have jobs to go back to. I’ve proposed a plan to help businesses and get people back on payrolls — now and through the duration of this pandemic. I look forward to working with my colleagues to rehire America and get people back to work as quickly and safely as possible.”