‘Gather the data, save the receipts,’ mayor tells border merchants hurt by COVID-19 lockdown


Business community will have to pin hopes on reimbursements from stimulus package

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Border officials will be looking to Washington, D.C., to mitigate commercial losses caused by the regional coronavirus-related lockdown.

The city and county of El Paso on Tuesday issued a “stay at home, work safe” order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. All nonessential activity is discouraged and people who violate the order can be fined $1,000 or jailed for up to 180 days.

The action came a day after the state of New Mexico next door ordered a similar lockdown and the state of Chihuahua across the border did much the same. Downtown El Paso was already reeling from travel restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border that shut the door on Mexicans with visas that frequently come across to shop.

“We understand this is an economic impact across the board and the federal government has said it’ll provide some incentives and reimbursements for businesses,” Mayor Dee Margo said.

He urged businesses to keep track of losses incurred during the lockdown and forward them to the City’s Economic Development Department or to county government.

“Gather the data, save the receipts. Send them […] so we can try to make sure everyone receives what they’re entitled to based on what our federal government says it’ll do with their economic stimulus packages,” the Mayor said.

El Paso businesses expected to bear losses during coronavirus-related “stay at home” order. (KTSM file photo)

The El Paso Chamber, meantime, set up an online page with business support tools called “El Paso Business Stand Together.” It’s a clearinghouse of information on COVID-19 and links to an interactive Facebook group also called “El Paso Businesses Stand Together.”

The page on Tuesday fielded questions ranging from whether pawn shops or retail stores can stay open to inquiries about finding assistance with lease payments for businesses rendered idle by the “stay at home” order.

Margo said he’s aware the order places businesses in a difficult position, that some might be feeling the “cure” is worse than the disease.

“This decision was not an easy one … we’re dealing with lives versus livelihoods,” the mayor said. “We understand the burden and strain on small businesses across the community. … The hope is that by doing this we have shortened the timeline that is going to be required to deal with this virus so we can get over this as soon as possible.”

Texas state Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, agrees that COVID-19 is hurting the people’s pocketbook, but that public health takes precedence.

“We must put our health needs first and slow the spread of the virus. Community is working at a grassroots level on relief efforts […] and Congress is working on a federal resource package. In my opinion, this should center the needs of workers and small businesses,” he said.

Meantime in Juarez, Mayor Armando Cabada said he, too, would wait for the Mexican federal government to provide relief. But he said his administration is prepared to spend $70 million this year on unscheduled social services, public works and things like food baskets and cleaning products for the poor.

“This will helps us invigorate the (local) economy,” he said in a Facebook post.

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