The Current

Frustrated businesses want more COVID-19 financial help, but say 'New Orleans isn't going anywhere'

Our Road to November series on the U.S. election concludes in New Orleans, La., where tourism has been hit hard by COVID-19.

Republicans and Democrats disagree on specifics of further stimulus measures

U.S. bars and restaurants desperately need more government support as the pandemic drags on, said Chelsea O'Lansen, the marketing and sales manager for the Old Absinthe House. (Submitted by Chelsea O'Lansen)

This story is part of The Current's series Road to November, a virtual trip down the Mississippi River from Minnesota to Louisiana, to meet some of the people whose lives will be shaped by the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Read story transcript

A hospitality worker in New Orleans fears the pandemic could mean last call for some of the city's long-standing bars and restaurants, if there isn't another round of stimulus support.

"I think that the first round of payments were very much needed, but that no one anticipated how long this thing would last, how severe it would be," said Chelsea O'Lansen, the marketing and sales manager for the Old Absinthe House. 

The business first opened its doors as a saloon in 1815, but only reopened late last week after a seven-month shutdown.

"It's just been extremely challenging to keep something afloat that is cherished as kind of a citywide historical relic," O'Lansen told The Current

"The Old Absinthe House has changed hands many times, and there's always someone eager to step up to the plate. But I do fear that that won't be the case because of the unique conditions of COVID and the kind of economic havoc it's wreaked." 

The Old Absinthe House first opened as a saloon in New Orleans in 1815. (Getty Images)

The U.S. poured $4 trillion into a COVID-19 rescue package this spring, with more than half going to businesses. But recent analysis has criticized the lack of oversight on how the money was spent (for instance, providing tax breaks to companies that still laid off workers). Further stimulus measures stalled as Republican and Democrat failed to reach agreement on specifics

In August, Republican candidate Donald Trump released a bullet-point list of campaign promises, including pledges to develop a vaccine by the end of the year and "return to normal" in 2021. The list does not include specifics, but he has voiced support for providing further aid to people struggling financially

His opponent, Democrat candidate Joe Biden, has pledged a robust stimulus package, including helping businesses keep workers on the payroll where possible, support for those out of work, and paid medical leave for workers infected with COVID-19, or caring for someone else who is. If elected, Biden's term would not begin until January. 

O'Lansen's fears about waiting for more help were echoed by Oscar Donahue, who has been selling his jewellery at the city's popular French Market for 35 years. 

"In March, they gave out a $1,200 stimulus cheque, which was, of course, immediately gobbled up," he said, adding that he sees other countries offering pandemic financial support on a monthly basis.

He said businesses around him have already closed, possibly never to return.

I can't express my frustration and disappointment that the leadership here didn't take more aggressive steps to help regular people- Oscar Donahue

Bureau of Labor Statistics data released last week showed 60,100 fewer people employed in the New Orleans metro area in September, compared to the same time last year. The city's unemployment rate was 9.5 per cent in September, up from 4.6 per cent one year ago, and higher than the national rate of 7.7 per cent in September, up form 3.3 per cent last year.

The city's hospitality and leisure industry saw the biggest change, with 29,100 more people now out of work, representing a 31.8 per cent drop in employment.

"I can't express my frustration and disappointment that the leadership here didn't take more aggressive steps to help regular people," Donahue said.

But he said the spirit of New Orleans will prevail, and survive the pandemic just as it did Hurricane Katrina, 15 years ago.

"People here are determined to make sure the city is going to survive," he said.

"New Orleans isn't going anywhere." 

'Sad and a bit embarrassed': How U.S. professor felt while watching Trump-Biden debate

2 years ago
Duration 10:16
The first U.S. presidential debate of 2020 was too combative and divisive for Americans to learn much from it, says Ravi Perry, a political science professor at Howard University.

U.S. 'a laughing stock'

According to the CBC Presidential Poll Tracker, Trump leads in Louisiana as of Monday morning, with 58.7 per cent against Biden's 39.9 per cent.

In 2016, Trump won the state's eight electoral college votes with 58.1 per cent of the ballot, ahead of Hillary Clinton's 38.4 per cent. 

Donahue said he wants to see a change in leadership, because "we want a sense of normalcy to come back." 

While it's by no means unusual for U.S. elections to garner world attention, moments of the 2020 campaign have cast the country in a negative light — in particular the first presidential debate, which some described as a loss for the country at large.

"We'd like for the United States to regain the respect it once had internationally, where we're not considered a laughing stock, and an embarrassment," he said.

"The United States is supposed to set the standard and show what it means to have a great democracy."

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Joana Draghici.

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