Writing a timely article about public policy for a magazine
that publishes in two weeks’ time is challenging in the best of circumstances. In today’s COVID-19 environment it’s even more so. This article is designed to focus on the long-term, with the short-term being covered primarily by ELFA’s new page on our website dedicated to the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis
The pandemic is going to change the way the world works in ways that were unimaginable just a month ago. Think about how you would have responded on New Year’s Day if someone had told you that by Saint Patrick’s Day, every public school in the country would, in effect, be shut down and many of those students would be “attending” school virtually in some form.
From a business perspective, thinking about the highly uncertain long term is more important than ever, even when the short term is screaming for 110% of your attention.
When thinking about the long term, think about the seals that we’ve broken during this crisis. The next time we have any sort of public health flare-up, how much sooner will a governor close non-essential businesses or order people to stay at home? Will that be justified? Will it be questioned? Think about these questions in light of the government’s response to 9/11 and, right, wrong or indifferent, the freedoms that society gave up in the name of making the country safer. This isn’t exactly the same, but it’s not all that different either.
From a business perspective, thinking about the highly uncertain long term is more important than ever, even when the short term is screaming for 110% of your attention. The areas of the equipment finance industry that will change as a result of this crisis will rival those that won’t. Here are some areas for you to think about.
Participating in Government Programs
The number of government programs that have already been created in response to this crisis is significant. For some businesses, these programs will be the difference between being an ongoing concern in a year’s time and not. For others, they may help through a rough patch. Every business must think about what participating in a government program as a lender or as a recipient of funds means for them in the long term. Some of these programs will carry increased oversight as a condition of participation; most of them will eventually have a negative news article written about them. Consider these factors when deciding whether to participate or not.
The Effects of Closures
ELFA is already aware of several areas where business as usual has been halted due to closures of government offices. How do you title a vehicle when the DMV is closed? How do you have a document notarized when physically meeting with a notary is difficult, given social distancing guidelines? We’ve all seen that systems that depend on paper or personal interactions have had much more trouble in this environment than those that didn’t. How will businesses and government adapt to a world where the push will be to have everything have a robust virtual backup? For those who follow government activity relating to cybersecurity, you would be forgiven for believing that government will lag far behind the private sector. But how does that work when you are required to file a document--that today is a paper document--with the government?
The Importance of Relationships
In the past few weeks, we’ve all gotten calls from someone needing a solution to a problem. Even if we don’t want to admit it in all cases, if the call is coming from someone whom we’ve known for years, the response we give is different than if we’ve never met or talked to the person before. This remains true in the public policy space; the best time to build a relationship with a Member of Congress and their staff is not during a crisis. They are flooded with incoming calls and are simply unable to respond to everyone. This is heightened even more when people are working virtually and e-mail is the principal form of communication with congressional staff and their e-mails are now widely available, meaning everybody has them. Once we pass through the height of the health crisis, think about whether it makes sense to build that relationship with your elected official and their staff. This may be the key to a positive public policy outcome for your business in the future.
In closing, Tony Fratto at Hamilton Place Strategies, in a paper
that we’ve posted to our COVID-19 response webpage
, gives this advice: “You have to plan today for the story you want to tell about who you are as a company when you exit the crisis. It’s challenging to think beyond the very near-term, but you must devote some brains and resources to plan for re-entry. You don’t want to get caught flat-footed when it’s time to get back to normal commercial activity.”