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Jacksonville Bold for 4.30.20 — Mayday

This May Day, we find Jacksonville calling “mayday.”

Mayday

Friday, otherwise known as May Day, has connotations ironic in the current context.

Socialists a century ago saw the first day of May as a day to celebrate workers. They may have appreciated the irony of the federal government fabricating trillions of dollars in federal money, routing it to Florida.

Workers of the world, unite! (And hopefully, you won’t need Florida unemployment.)

And then Florida, as is known, programmed that money … but when it came to those workers, specifically those rendered jobless due to state-imposed coronavirus-driven shutdowns, 40% have been denied benefits.

The city of Jacksonville, as you will see below, is trying to fill the gap … also with federal money.

The CARES Act allows, among other things, for the city to pay relief payments to displaced workers. However, those $1,000 debit cards, earmarked for 40,000 Duval County households, will not be prioritized for those denied state relief.

Workers could be back to work in the coming days. Landlords, we are told, continue to shake down tenants for rent despite local and state stays on eviction proceedings.

Florida is a right to work state, especially now, and May Day won’t be a day for proletarian celebration.

Instead, in Florida, the day will have its secondary meaning: that of a distress call, of the type a pilot crashing a plane may issue in vain.

Mayday!

Mayday!

Disenfranchised

A repeat candidate from Florida’s 5th Congressional District had hoped to run in 2020, but she blames the “pandemic” for failure to qualify.

L.J. Holloway, a Jacksonville Democrat, says the qualification process, along with pandemic restrictions, thwarted her filing last week on the last day of qualifying. She provided a check at 9 a.m. Friday, but a discrepancy between the numeric and written portion of the check was rejected shortly after 10 a.m.

L.J. Holloway, who was going to run for Congress, lost her race against the filing deadline.

“I had an hour and a half delay as a result of the check sitting in a dropbox outside,” Holloway related.

Holloway uses the Jacksonville-based VyStar Credit Union, whose nearest location is in Perry. Despite her best efforts, she says she couldn’t get the check to them until 1:21 p.m.

Holloway’s absence means there is only one Jacksonville Democrat running against incumbent Rep. Al Lawson and that’s Albert Chester. Two Republicans, Gary Adler and Roger Wagoner, are running in the other primary.

Help payday lenders?

Round One of the Paycheck Protection Program payouts saw $349 billion committed to small businesses and a few larger businesses and universities who sneaked in. Many businesses were left out, prompting 24 House members, including Rep. Lawson to join in a letter requesting payday lenders to be eligible to receive loans.

Lawson and his colleagues requested Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Small Business Administration head Jovita Carranza to open up loan eligibility to “small size non-banks,” which would include payday lenders. The members reasoned that payday lenders and other capital providers provide a service to customers in need.

Al Lawson wants payday loan lenders to be included in the PPP. 

“(T)hese businesses have been shut out completely from the PPP, which has forced many of them to lay off their highly trained employees who would have preferred to keep their jobs than seek government unemployment assistance,” the lawmakers wrote.

The request was strongly opposed by many who say payday lenders prey on needy Americans and lock them into debt with immediate cash loans at exorbitant interest rates.

“How about we give payday lenders small business loans, but we charge 480% in interest and can garnish their profits for repayment?” tweeted Amanda Fisher, policy director at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.

While other less controversial entities would be covered under the “non-banks” category, payday lenders have a way of setting people off. Lawson was one of only four Democrats signing the letter.

No competition

A number of Northeast Florida candidates breezed to another term when no opponents qualified to run against them last week.

State Attorney Melissa Nelson and Public Defender Charles Cofer, both of the 4th circuit, have four more years without the indignity of the campaign trail.

Breezing: 4th Circuit Public Defender Charles Cofer slid into another term. Image via News4Jax.

There had been loose talk about a challenge to Nelson, but as so much loose talk goes it faded into the ether.

Let’s get to work

The Senate Appropriations Chair is ready to get the state back to business, “smartly and safely,” as he detailed this week in an op-ed exclusive to Florida Politics.

Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, believes that “because Floridians have done the right things, from social distancing to avoiding large gatherings, the dire predictions that Florida would become another Italy or New York were wrong.”

By doing the right things, Rob Bradley says “the dire predictions that Florida would become another Italy or New York were wrong.”

Bradley echoed Gov. Ron DeSantis’ own rhetoric here, which any sensible budget chair would do while the state spending plan for next fiscal year hangs in suspense.

Included: an argument for safety, not risk, for opening businesses.

“The test must be a simple one: can the activity be done safely? If the answer is yes, the activity should resume. The furniture store owner in Orange Park doesn’t understand why he’s forced to close while Home Depot is open. He’s right! Both should be open if proper protocols are followed,” Bradley contended.

‘Bullish’

That’s how Rep. Travis “Ol’ Trav” Cummings described DeSantis this week when asked where the Governor stood on reopening the state.

Cummings, a Clay County Republican who, like Bradley, was on the Reopen Florida Task Force that reported this week, says that movement is imminent.

”There are certain businesses that are lower-risk or moderate-risk that need to be put back to work,’ Travis Cummings says.

The Orange Park Republican talked to Jacksonville’s WOKV Monday and echoed the Governor’s own comments about “risk” levels of businesses being factors in their opening.

“There are certain businesses that are lower-risk or moderate-risk that need to be put back to work,” Cummings said. “I think the Governor in the next couple of days is going to weigh in for sure.”

DeSantis has mused openly about moving beyond “essential” and “nonessential” businesses for restrictions going forward, questioning the need to keep “low-risk” businesses closed past the end of the month.

Cummings spotlighted elective surgeries as a product line medical centers will soon offer again, having suspended them last month to free up capacity for the expected COVID-19 case surge.

“The reality is a lot of preventive screenings, cancer treatments, mammograms, colonoscopies, you name it … the Governor is bullish to get those businesses back open.”

Sweet relief

$159 million of federal CARES Act money was moved by the Jacksonville City Council Monday, helping to provide a measure of relief that, depending on who you ask, will help Jacksonville weather the post-coronavirus recovery or will just be a drop in the bucket.

The $159 million spend, facilitated by federal funds earmarked for coronavirus relief, programs $40 million for citizens to help with mortgage and rent payments, with an additional $25 million to be disbursed at the authority of Mayor Lenny Curry.

Lenny Curry will hold the purse strings on $25 million of local coronavirus relief. Image via News4Jax.

Conditions apply for citizen relief, capped at $1,000 per household for up to 40,000 households impacted by job or income loss due to the current crisis.

Debit cards will be used for the 40,000 disbursements, with the administration vowing that records will be kept.

The maximum household income for those eligible is capped at $75,000 or below. Applicants must prove that coronavirus shutdowns have reduced said income by at least 20%.

Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes said the administration would consider ways to prioritize people waiting for unemployment money from the state, though logistical concerns stopped him short of “rock-solid committal” to make that happen.

Relocation

The central hub for Jacksonville Transportation Authority buses will move locations downtown next week.

The current Rosa Parks Station hub located between State and Union streets downtown is shifting about a mile west to the LaVilla area May 4. The hub is where all buses eventually lead on their routes for transfers, links to other modes of transportation and exchanges in Jacksonville.

The hub will be housed at JTA’s new administrative headquarters at the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center, 11 LaVilla Center Drive. That’s a five-story recently-opened building that has rails for the Skyway Express transit system that runs through the structure.

“This facility was built to be the main intermodal hub for Jacksonville,” said David Cawton II, the Communications Director for JTA.

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority headquarters in the LaVilla area will turn into the main city bus hub on May 4.

There were more than 100 employees who already moved into the administrative offices in February. They are currently working out of their homes due to the coronavirus outbreak. But the headquarters was long planned to serve as the JTA bus hub that connects to other transportation beyond city buses.

“The Skyway comes into the building. There is a pedestrian bridge that connects to the Greyhound [interstate bus line] station,” Cawton said.

“This facility has the capacity to serve about 42,000 [people] a day as opposed to Rosa Parks [station], which serves about 11,000,” Cawton said, adding construction on the facility began in 2017 and cost about $60 million.

The original hub between State and Union streets will still serve as a large JTA site at Rosa Parks Station, Cawton said, as the facility is near the downtown campus of Florida State College at Jacksonville.

The new hub will have a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office presence and additional 24-hour security, surveillance equipment and other measures to prevent vagrancy and loitering, Cawton said.

Distilled

Distilleries are churning out hand sanitizer for front line workers, but a lack of clarity from the state has left them little opportunity to sell the bottles of booze that fund the support mission.

The statewide stay-at-home made some concessions for restaurants, granting them the right to sell cocktails with carryout and delivery orders. Distilleries, however, weren’t afforded an alternative revenue stream.

With bars certain to be excluded from the first phase of the state’s reopening plan, the drag on their bottom line could continue for weeks.

The Florida Craft Distillers Guild — which includes St. Augustine Distillery, City Gate Spirits and Burlock and Barrell — is held back by a state law that limits craft distilleries to in-person sales.

While switching to making hand sanitizer, St. Augustine Distillery wants Florida to relax laws banning shipping or delivery during the pandemic.

In other states, rules have been relaxed to allow small operations to accept orders for shipping or delivery. In Florida, however, it’s a line that guild members don’t want to cross without guidance from the top.

While liquor sales along may not be “essential,” Steel Tie Spirts Company CEO Ben Etheridge said delivery revenues could enable sanitizer production to continue unabated.

“With the rise of COVID-19, despite our efforts in hand sanitizer production, distilleries are struggling to survive. Our company has been closed to the public for nearly 6 weeks,” he said.

“By allowing craft distillers to sell and deliver our spirits online, we can generate much-needed revenues, rehire staff and increase our production of hand sanitizers for our local communities that will soon need this product to safely reopen.”

Crowley shipments

Jacksonville-based Crowley Logistics assisted with shipments of produce for Hispanic and Puerto Rican victims of the coronavirus outbreak in New York City.

Crowley is partnering with Caribbean Produce Exchange Inc., a produce distributor in Puerto Rico, to transport a shipping container filled with fruits and other produce to the communities that have many residents who live in Hispanic neighborhoods. The shipping container carried about 16,000 pounds of produce to New York City, a Crowley news release said.

The container arrived in the South Bronx area of New York this month where the produce was distributed through Baldor Specialty Foods. The fruits and vegetables were given to elderly residents and needy families in the area of New York City.

Crowley Logistics helped to ship produce to New York City to provide food for hard-hit Hispanic areas.

The container originated from San Juan, Puerto Rico, where Crowley is one of the longest operating shipping companies on the U.S. territory island. Then it was shipped aboard the Crowley liquefied natural gas vessel MV Taino to Jacksonville where company trucks hauled the produce north to New York.

“Crowley has always striven to help people in the communities in which we live, work and serve, and this partnership continues the long-standing commitment by the company and our employees,” said Sal Menoyo, Crowley Logistics vice president for Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

Jaguars draft well

With the 2020 draft now behind them, the Jaguars can now look toward training camp, whenever that might occur. In these strange times, coach Doug Marrone and the coaching staff look to the time when the veterans, free agents and draft choices can introduce themselves to one another.

No draft day trades developed, which meant Jacksonville selected 11 players with the hope of filling many needs. The once-proud defense needed shoring up, which they did in the first round with their two picks.

Over the final two days, they brought in more help at wide receiver, the defensive and offensive lines, more depth in the defensive backfield and a backup quarterback. Those in charge of carrying out the draft were happy with the final product.

CJ Henderson becomes the second cornerback to be taken off the board in the first round as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ No. 9 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Overall, the Jags drafted well.

General Manager Dave Caldwell said: “We feel really good about the players we got.” Marrone expressed his confidence that the new players are good enough to form the foundation for the future of the organization.

Football analysts were impressed with most of them giving out grades of As and Bs. NFL.coms Chad Reuter gave them A’s on each of the three days of the draft.

No one is calling the Jaguars a playoff contender, but they would like to get out of last place in the AFC South. With that in mind, how did their division rivals do?

Reuter gave the Indianapolis Colts an A-, while the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans each earned a B+. Pete Prisco of CBS Sports graded the Jaguars with a B+ and gave the Colts a B-, and a C for the Texans and the Titans.

Paul Martin of The Last Word on Pro Football thought Jacksonville’s haul rated an A, while Houston earned a B-, Indianapolis a B and Tennessee a C.

In the end, many of the players drafted by Jacksonville and the other NFL teams will not make the final cut from training camp. The true draft grade is incomplete as those who do make the cut and develop into solid football players over the next few seasons are the ones to determine the final grade of the 2020 draft.

Hopefully, the competition to earn a spot on the team can begin soon.

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