Karyn Kuhl loves to strum her guitar and introduce the Beatles’ yellow submarine to an audience of excited toddlers. Kuhl, a professional musician and owner of Little Rock n ‘Rollers, teaches weekly music classes for children in New Jersey. But her business and income fell by about half earlier this year as the lockdown kept her young students at home and the economic fallout from the pandemic closed the music store she was teaching in.
But the arrival of warmer weather gave her the opportunity to hold classes outdoors – which helped revitalize her businesses.
During the summer and early autumn, Kuhl’s children and their adult caregivers would socialize on picnic blankets, singing, dancing, and signing up for additional classes. But Kuhl wonders what will happen when colder temperatures inevitably drive these families back into the house – and their income falls again.
“Families were thrilled to be together again in a safe environment. But it’s very stressful not knowing what to do or what to do when it gets too cold to be outside, ”Kuhl told Al Jazeera. “I have no idea what my income will be after another month or so, and that’s extremely scared. My classes are aimed at very young children so it’s difficult to get them to work online. “
In the US, small business owners are wondering how to stay afloat as colder temperatures make outdoor activities difficult and Congress remains at odds during the next round of economic aid to coronavirus.
Karyn Kuhl found it difficult to adapt her classes for Zoom in the first few months of the pandemic. [Courtesy: Karyn Kuhl/Al Jazeera]House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congress Democrats have proposed $ 2.2 trillion in coronavirus aid, but the Trump administration previously signaled it would be ready to provide just $ 1.3 trillion authorize.
Meanwhile, American families’ livelihoods are in balance – and a possible COVID-19 resurgence in this part of the United States is on the horizon as the cold and flu season kicks off.
“Something that should be an urgent response to an unprecedented national crisis has been politicized,” Maria Figueroa, director of labor and policy research at Cornell University’s Worker Institute, told Al Jazeera.
Around 22 million Americans lost their jobs in March and April. While roughly half of those jobs have returned, the data suggests that the recovery is in low gear as the latest round of federal incentives wear off, including the extra $ 600 a week for the one that expired in July and not renewed Unemployment benefit.
“As a society and as a country, we were not prepared for this and our government does not seem to care enough about making efforts to get us out,” said Figueroa.
To restart their businesses in the U.S. during the summer months, many restaurant owners invested in building patios and converting sidewalks and parking lots into outdoor dining areas. Now they are wondering how a region that receives a decent amount of snow from December through March will survive a long and potentially unprofitable winter without government aid.
In New York and New Jersey, restaurants didn’t get the green light until September to resume indoor dining at 25 percent capacity.
Sisters Sarah Grace and Georgia Johnson run two restaurants across the street in Jersey City: a pub called Fox and Crow and a coffee house called Lil ‘Dove. Both stores were completely closed from mid-March to late June, and the sisters and their parents, Art and Sarah Johnson, lost 100 percent of their income. To help their struggling staff, they launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for their busboys, cooks and servers.
Families were thrilled to be back together in a safe environment. But it is very stressful not knowing what to do or what to do when it gets too cold to be outside.
When New Jersey allowed al fresco dining in June, the Johnsons had to pay about $ 15,000 to reopen: create online ordering tools for their websites, buy paper goods for take-away orders, and all the supplies to create two sidewalk cafes Scratches, including tables, chairs, artificial turf, plants, umbrellas, tents, and heaters.
To open, the restaurant will now have to be built “essentially every day before customers arrive,” Georgia Johnson told Al Jazeera.
“There are many ‘volunteer’ hours every day to keep the businesses of all members of our family going,” she added. “This time and energy allows us to continue serving the neighborhood and keeping our people busy – but it doesn’t necessarily allow us to gain anything financially.”
Both companies were able to hire some of their employees in the summer and early autumn. But Art Johnson said they worked “about 40 percent of what they were doing before the pandemic. It goes without saying that this will put a strain on our business and on all hospitality companies operating in this environment. “
The Fox and Crow built an outdoor dining area in Jersey City to cater for guests during the coronavirus pandemic. However, restaurant owners are concerned about how cold weather will affect business. [Courtesy: Johnson Family/Al Jazeera]The Fox and Crow had live music several nights a week, which the Johnsons have yet to bring back. Some of the local musicians who used to have standing nights in the pub have moved from the area because of the high cost of living near New York City and the lack of gigs.
“We miss our musicians and live music terribly, but right now there doesn’t seem to be any way to continue indoors as a music venue,” said Sarah Johnson. “Once we step on the other side, we hope to grow strong again and welcome back the many talented musicians in Jersey City and beyond.”
When the weather gets colder, customers have asked the Johnsons what they are up to. They are considering delivery options and may add some reservation-based indoor seating, but said health and safety must outperform profits, especially since their entire family works there.
“Of course we wish we could move inside so everyone can continue to eat and drink together, but we are also still in the middle of a global pandemic and entering a seasonal flu season,” said Sarah Grace Johnson. “I think we are all very excited about the coming weeks. My voice is to bundle and accept the lively weather – we have outside heating. “
Michelle Goitia teaches prenatal and postnatal yoga and hosts support groups for new mothers in New York and New Jersey. She spoke to Al Jazeera at the beginning of the pandemic about how she had practically wiped out her income. She has since taught some of her courses online and others at her local park.
“Since my clientele are pregnant women and mothers with newborns, I’ve waited to move my classes outside until the weather gets cooler,” Goitia told Al Jazeera.
But when the temperatures keep dropping, it’s not easy to get things back inside. Some of the yoga studios she taught before the pandemic have permanently closed their inpatient rooms. Others have drastically reduced the number of classes on offer to cope with fewer students, stricter cleaning requirements, and lower incomes.
“I also had my own room that was completely closed, so I had to teach completely online,” said Goitia. “Because it looks like our work and family gathering lives are entirely online, people are less likely to have attended classes online recently. My yoga class income fell 34 percent and my self-help group income fell 15 percent. “
Michelle Goitia, a prenatal yoga teacher, obstetrician, and obstetrician has gone online with her business, but it’s come with a significant wage cut. [Courtesy: Michelle Goitia/Al Jazeera]When Goitia surveyed her clients this summer, most said they weren’t ready to take a class indoors. But some were, so Goitia decided to offer one with 25 percent capacity. “I’m almost sold out,” she said, even though all participants wear masks for the entire class and must bring their own yoga mats and props.
Goitia and Kuhl both said they saw “zoom fatigue” in their students – and a drop in online class enrollments months after the pandemic. Virtual classes also make them less – Kuhl charges $ 15 for a Zoom music class versus $ 24 for a personal class, and Goitia said she increased her virtual fee to $ 20 to match her personal one after her income hit a hit last spring.
Something that should be an urgent response to an unprecedented national crisis has been politicized.
But restaurants can’t get things online the same way when temperatures drop and takeaway food and drinks affect restaurant staff’s bottom line. This is why government aid to families like the Johnsons will be vital.
“We want our businesses to survive the pandemic and remain open to our loyal customers. However, should we face lockdowns or extreme restrictions this winter, government funding will be required to allow small businesses to pay their basic monthly costs,” so Georgia Johnson said.
Figueroa said some of the temporary protections for gig workers and the hospitality industry – including hazard payments, unemployment insurance, COVID relief exams, and rent relief – need to be expanded to allow people to survive.
“Families, small businesses and gig workers are paying for the human cost of this crisis as they will be evicted from their homes, have to close their businesses and only become extremely vulnerable to the health risks and economic consequences of the crisis,” Figueroa explained. “It is also necessary to establish a permanent safety net and health care for gig workers. “
Of course, we wish we could move inside so everyone can continue to eat and drink together, but we’re also still in the middle of a global pandemic and entering a seasonal flu season.
Goitia also wishes that gig workers like her not only find out how to stay afloat. After receiving a stimulus check for $ 1,700 last spring, Goitia applied for unemployment benefits from her state with limited success.
“The process and system are cumbersome and cannot handle the number of people who need help. For example, I applied for unemployment in June and only received one payment, ”she explained. “The system needs to be restructured for the self-employed as our income is different from someone who works for a company with multiple employees.”
Kuhl agrees. “I wasn’t entitled to a lot of support because I’m not a stationary company,” she said. “The pandemic unemployment benefit must be resumed as soon as possible. All types of small businesses and individuals must be eligible for grants and loans from all levels of government. “