- The Washington Times
Thursday, March 19, 2020

Americans are more worried about their finances than getting the coronavirus, as the pandemic hamstrings major sectors of the U.S. economy.

A survey released Tuesday by FinanceBuzz.com found “Americans are more worried about unexpected expenses (79%) and paying their bills (68%) than catching COVID-19 (63%).”

To assess the personal economic impact of the outbreak, the alphabet provides a key.

“Is this going to be a ‘V’ or a ‘U’ or an ‘L’ shaped event?” asked Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the Chamber of Commerce. “All those scenarios look the same in the beginning: a huge drop in economic activity. We all have hopes for a ‘V’ shape, although it’s looking more like a ‘U’ shape, but whatever we can do now to keep it from being ‘L’ shaped is worth it.”

Famed investor Ray Dalio estimated global corporate losses from the virus will top $12 trillion, with $4 trillion of that in the U.S., meaning a trickle-down impact on wallets is unavoidable.

On Thursday afternoon, Todd Christensen, education manager at MoneyFit.org, held a webinar on personal finance to offer some advice for those worrying about the hit to the pocketbook the virus may pack.

“One of the things I recommend is obviously don’t panic,” Mr. Christensen told The Washington Times. “We see people already spending on their credit cards and emptying store shelves, but we may look back at this as the great toilet paper crisis of 2020 and people will have all this ‘corona’ debt over their heads for years to come. Now is the time to save money, not spend it.”

A survey by WalletHub found 67 million Americans “anticipate trouble paying their credit card bills due to the economic impact of the coronavirus,” although companies such as AmericanExpress and Capital One are reportedly offering interest-free months. A new card offered by Goldman Sachs, the Apple Card, will allow a skipped payment with no interest, the company announced.

Congress scrambled to craft new regulations that would help small businesses in the crunch. In particular, senators were putting together a $1 trillion stimulus bill that would target small businesses and emphasize employment.

“What we are discussing are FORGIVEABLE loans,” Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican tweeted. “Whatever they take out from this assistance program & use for payroll & business and rent/lease/mortgage will NOT have to be repaid.”

“This is NOT some traditional SBA direct loan or program,” Mr. Rubio stressed, adding that lawmakers are aiming to run the programs through community banks and lenders rather than the government. “The goal is straightforward: Get cash to small business as fast & easy as possible so they don’t have to lay people off & if they use it for that purpose doesn’t have to be paid back.”

Some businesses taking the hit have begun to seek legal remedies. On Thursday, Oceana Grill in New Orleans’ French Quarter became the first to seek legal protection, according to The Wall Street Journal. The restaurant asked a state court to ensure its policy with Lloyds of London would “cover lost revenue due to civil authority actions,” such as ordered restaurant closings.

New Orleans, which finished its massive Carnival celebration on Feb. 25 and is one of the nation’s biggest ports, has emerged as one of the virus’s myriad epicenters. Two-thirds of the state’s 347 coronavirus cases as of Thursday were in Orleans Parish, officials said.

“New Orleans same case/1,000 as Italy with the 3rd highest rate of COVID per capita in the country,” tweeted Christine Petrin, a Tulane University Medical School student. “I fear we are not just an epicenter of spread for the state but for the nation.”

The city has canceled its traditional April French Quarter Festival. JazzFest, a two-week celebration that attracts hundreds of thousands from around the world, has been postponed.

Florida’s economy took a big hit when Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis closed the state’s beaches and restaurants Thursday, a move critics said should have been made earlier.

“The message I think for spring breakers is the party’s over in Florida,” Mr. DeSantis said.

That means a big loss for beach communities along the Gulf Coast for whom spring break is a financial windfall. With many schools shutting down, college kids had flocked to hot spots from South Padre Island, a barrier island in Texas, to Miami.

Nevertheless, the Panhandle, the Sunshine State’s top drive-in destination after Orlando, remained something of a bright spot Thursday in a dim economy.

“That’s the weird thing, the entire country is on lockdown but our resorts down here are all 100% occupied,” said Nathan Abbott, a real estate agent in Miramar Beach. “I’m all about tourism, and I’m grateful people love our beaches, but there’s also this mindset that, ‘I’m young, nothing will happen to me.’”

The situation is less promising across the country in Seattle, another coronavirus epicenter. As small and midsize businesses grapple with possible layoffs and closings, particularly in the hospitality and entertainment sectors, Seattle has become something of a ghost town, said Tom Pierson, CEO of the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re still deep into this and you can get around any part of the town at any time now,” he said. “They might as well get rid of traffic signals.”

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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