Week in Review, Aug. 10-14: No End in Sight, No Fans in Dome

NEW ORLEANS – The picture on the front page of the paper says it all: a former New Orleans bakery worker is now earning a few dollars an hour holding up one of those signs on the street to capture the attention of passing motorists and pedestrians. The sign is advertising a “going out of business” sale for Neiman Marcus Last Call in the Riverwalk. And the man is standing in front of Mulate’s restaurant, which is boarded up and shut down because of the pandemic.

The story of the photo is clear: even as the state’s COVID-19 infection rate improves and school starts up again, New Orleans and the rest of the nation are still a long way from an economic recovery.

To that point, several major New Orleans hospitality employers – including the Hilton Riverside Hotel, Commander’s Palace restaurant and the Hyatt Regency – notified the state this week that they won’t be re-hiring workers for at least the next six months. And Gov. John Bel Edwards said the state plans to take advantage of a President Trump executive order that will allow the state’s more than 400,000 laid-off workers to collect a federal boost to their weekly unemployment benefits. There’s fine print, however: the extra amount from the feds will be around $300 per week, which is half of what it was under a program that expired in July. And this new relief will only last for a few weeks unless Congress agrees on a new aid package. Also, there’s a lot of red tape involved in getting the program started so it’s unclear when the money will actually reach people.

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The New Orleans Saints, meanwhile, announced that the team’s Sept. 13 season opener vs. the Tampa Buccaneers will happen without fans in the Superdome. Team officials said the decision to allow fans into other games this season will depend on the Gulf South region’s success lowering COVID-19 infection rates. …

City Launches Outdoor Dining Program

The City of New Orleans is launching a series of initiatives that are designed to support outdoor dining as restaurants continue to grapple with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Curbside dining and “parklet” permits will be available along with outdoor dining grants up to $6,000 to support the construction of al fresco curbside dining and parklet areas.

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Private, Public Schools Approach School Start Differently

The Center Square reported that about 86% of public schools in Louisiana are either operating or intend to operate a hybrid learning model combining in-person and online learning. Conversely, about 69 percent of private schools are planning fully face-to-face learning. “It’s easy to point fingers and blame people, but everyone has a heightened sense of anxiety right now,” said Cade Brumley, state superintendent of education. “We just have to give each other grace and patience as we work through this together.”

Stocks Go Up

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There’s been a lot of discussion about why the stock market is rallying while main street is struggling this year. The short answer is that the small businesses – restaurants, salons, bars, etc. – that are struggling mightily right now aren’t listed on the stock market. Big publicly traded tech companies like Apple and Amazon, however, have been making a fortune during the pandemic – thanks to working from home and other trends – and they are leading the rally. Airlines and cruise lines, while suffering huge losses, aren’t a big enough factor in the market to dampen the big tech effect. So it’s no surprise that stocks moved higher this week and the Dow briefly topped its record high despite historic high unemployment numbers and massive economic uncertainty.

Home Prices Go Up

A local and national report this week both say that home prices are rising in 2020 because the pandemic has increased demand and lowered supply. Low interest rates have made it easier to buy. People are feeling cooped up and want more space. But the overall economic uncertainty has caused sellers to be wary, so there’s less inventory. “Sellers in the New Orleans market should realize a high single digit increase in value over this time last year and be under contract in about 60 days,” said Keller Williams team leader Jeffrey R. Doussan Jr. “Almost 29% more homes were sold in July 2020 than July 2019.”

Ask for Help …

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell joined mayors from around the country to write a letter to Congress in support of the RESTAURANTS Act. The proposed legislation would provide $120 billion in grants through Dec. 31 to “non-chain food and drinking establishments who have experienced a significant drop in revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.” … Louisiana oil and gas leaders, meanwhile, are asking for federal help to get through the worst downturn the state’s industry has seen since the 1980s. …

… and You Shall Receive?

The United States Department of Agriculture recently announced a decision to purchase $30 million worth of shrimp from fisherman in Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast to help the seafood industry and stock emergency food banks. … And Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said his office is commending the insurer USAA for returning an additional $270 million dividend to auto insurance policyholders across the country in August. 

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