Herbert speaks at Governor's Native American Summit 05

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during the Governor's Native American Summit held Thursday, July 11, 2019, at Utah Valley University in Orem.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said that the state and federal governments and private sector should work together to minimize an economic downturn in Utah caused by the coronavirus pandemic and called for a special legislative session.

“Really, there are two quests here for us,” Herbert said in a video press conference on Tuesday. “The first and primary quest is to help protect the health and safety of the people of Utah … But secondly, we also have a responsibility to make sure we have economic opportunity.”

The Utah Economic Response Task Force assembled by Gov. Gary Herbert released the state’s three-phase “plan for a health and economic recovery” on Tuesday.

The task force includes Salt Lake Chamber President and CEO Derek Miller and Natalie Gochnour, director of the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

“This is the work of many minds, many people working for the last ... nearly three weeks,” said Herbert. “This is the most comprehensive plan to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus of any state in America today. And that will lead us to economic recovery sooner rather than later.”

First is the “Urgent Phase,” which began last Monday and will last for between eight and 12 weeks, consists of a “coordinated public health response coupled with historic economic stimulus,” according to the plan.

The task force predicts that there will be a decline in jobs during the urgent phase, particularly in the food, tourism, entertainment and cultural industries.

To reduce the impact to the state economy, the task force recommended aggressive monetary policy and reduced interest rates at the federal level, as well as sick leave and unemployment insurance for employees, large block grants to states, delayed tax payments and Small Business Administration cash-flow assistance.

The task force also recommended that the Utah State Legislature convene in a special session to consider unemployment insurance and safety net programs, utilize $24 million in COVID-19 appropriations and “reprioritize current spending and use operating reserves to provide assistance. “

Businesses in the private sector should hire economically impacted workers, support employees with COVID-19 and help alleviate supply chain shortages, the task force said.

Next is the 10-14-week “Stabilization Phase” where “public health measures and economic interventions begin to take hold” and job loss starts to slow.

During this phase, the majority of businesses and government agencies would “expand operations with precautions” and short-term layoffs would continue at a slower place, the task force said.

Individuals and small businesses would receive “significant aid” from the federal government, according to the plan, while state and local governments “leverage(d) working rainy-day funds and additional operating reserves to ensure stability of safety net programs and to inject cash into the economy by investing in shovel-ready projects.”

In the private sector, the task force said “philanthropic focus” should shift “from immediate needs to longer term needs” during this phase.

The “Recovery Phase,” which would last between eight and 10 weeks, would consist of a “return to stability and positive growth” where workers would return to work while still taking precautions.

The task force predicts the retail, entertainment, tourism and cultural industries would begin to recover during this phase and that sporting events and concerts would resume.

Monetary and fiscal policy at the federal level would “normalize over time” and “safety net programs (would) continue to do their job,” according to the plan.

The task force said there would likely be positive job growth during the recovery phase and that the state would begin “to replenish budget reserve accounts” and “access rainy-day accounts and additional working rainy-day funds to shore up critical government services until revenue begins to grow.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, 298 COVID-19 cases in the state had been reported by the Utah Department of Health, including 14 cases in Utah County. More than 5,800 people have been tested in the state.

The full “Utah Leads Together” economic recovery report can be viewed online at coronavirus.utah.gov./business.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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