Mark Kelly

Mark Kelly

CASA GRANDE — The coronavirus pandemic is forcing many candidates, like Mark Kelly, who are running for office this election year to find other ways to reach out to the public.

Kelly, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Arizona, held a Zoom teleconference with Casa Grande Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Navarro Fitzgibbons, Councilwoman Donna McBride, Casa Grande Economic Development Director Richard Wilkie and local attorney David Fitzgibbons last week to get more information on how the virus has affected city revenues, residents and small businesses.

Navarro Fitzgibbons said the situation at the city changes from day to day but the city has enough financial reserves to maintain its current level of services for a while. However, some of the large capital improvement projects the city has been planning may have to be put off for a while.

The city is also in the process of determining how to use its share of the CARES (Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act) funding it received, she said. The city plans to use the money to help support local nonprofits that offer rental and utility assistance programs and food programs for residents. There’s also a plan to use some of the funds to help provide internet access to local students and funding to help local small businesses.

“We have businesses that are struggling,” Navarro Fitzgibbons said.

The council is also looking at setting aside a large portion of the funds for future COVID-19 needs, she said.

Navarro Fitzgibbons also raised concerns about the importance of COVID-19 testing and the lengthy time it takes to get results back. She said that she recently found out that she was exposed to the virus and it took nearly a week to get results back. She quarantined herself within her home while she waited.

McBride also raised concerns about the availability of testing for the virus. McBride said she’s heard from a number of people who have had to travel into Phoenix and other areas to get tested for the virus, only to have the test or results lost or get the results back so late that they’re not useful.

Kelly agreed that it was taking too long to get results back to residents. He had heard that people were getting results back in five or six days; at that point the test results were almost moot.

A lot of people are working on a better, faster test, Kelly said. He was confident that at some point the nation would have an over-the-counter or free test that people could take that would hopefully provide the rapid results that people needed.

The community, state and nation also need leadership, McBride said.

“We have citizens who are scared,” she said.

McBride said she’s spoken with a number of community members who are concerned about what is happening with the schools. They want to know if and how schools will reopen and what safety measures will be in place for staff and students.

There are a lot of families who are struggling with stress caused by the pandemic, McBride said. Families are concerned about their finances, their jobs, if they might bring the virus home if they’re working outside the home, how to juggle working from home with helping their children learn and other issues.

The council has been trying to do something proactive with the CARES Act funding but many residents don’t understand that there is a process that must be followed before the money can be disbursed and the funds must be tracked.

“We need a lot of strong national leadership,” Kelly agreed.

Kelly asked Wilkie what the situation was for businesses and the unemployed in Casa Grande.

Wilkie said the city wouldn’t know the full extent of the situation until several months down the road.

There have been layoffs and furloughs at some businesses, such as Hexcel, Wilkie said. And some small businesses have announced that they will not be reopening after the restrictions are lifted.

The city has tried to help small businesses that have remained open during the pandemic, he said. For example, city staff blocked off a couple of street-side parking spots to help a small downtown coffee shop provide drive-up service and maintain social distancing. The city has also posted information and provided webinars in partnership with the Greater Casa Grande Chamber of Commerce and AZ@Work to help small businesses learn about the various loans and aid available to them and new ways to market their business during the pandemic.

“It’s a very trying time for businesses,” Wilkie said.

David Fitzgibbons said the pandemic has affected his law partnership and his clients. His office has tried to keep all of its employees on full-time even though many are not working full-time hours. His office and many of his clients who own and lease business properties have deferred rental or lease payments for tenants.

There are funeral homes that are taking care of families who have had loved ones who have died from the virus while struggling to make sure their staff and visitors stay safe, he said.

And then there are the people who have been displaced by the closures due to the virus, Fitzgibbons said. How do you help all of the people who have been thrown out of work, have lost a business or are in fear of losing their home?

Kelly voiced concern about Congress letting the extra funding for the unemployed that was approved as part of the CARES Act sunset at the end of the month.

He asked Fitzgibbons how the courts are handling hearings during the pandemic.

Fitzgibbons said that some courts have put off hearings, some are letting attorneys and clients appear telephonically but some hearings require showing up in person. In those cases, the parties to the case are spread out as far as possible in the courtroom.

In a phone interview with the Casa Grande Dispatch after the meeting, Kelly said he’s been reaching out to local communities like Casa Grande in order to prepare himself for office, if he’s elected in November.

This is a public health and economic crisis tied together, he said. The country needs a national plan and program to provide testing and provide funding and support for a vaccine.

The nation also needs to support small businesses and people who are currently unemployed due to the pandemic, he said.

“I get frustrated watching D.C.,” Kelly said. It seems like the people working in D.C. often wait too long to do something and then when they do come up with a plan, they don’t always come up with the best solutions, he said.

He pointed to the Paycheck Protection Program as an example. The program was supposed to provide loans to small businesses to help keep employees on the payroll while businesses were closed, but a lot of funding from the program went to large businesses, he said.

The partisanship and politics in D.C. is getting in the way of providing the aid that the nation’s residents need to weather this pandemic, Kelly said. If the politicians in D.C. would follow the facts and the science and work together, so much more could be done.