Susie Lee on relief efforts: ‘We’re putting the airplane together while we’re flying it’

Susie Lee, Felicia Ortiz, Rebecca Garcia
(Clockwise from top right: Rep. Susie Lee, Nevada Parent Teacher Association President Rebecca Garcia, State Board of Education member Felicia Ortiz and Gabby Everett, a district representative Lee.

Future federal coronavirus relief packages should focus on places like Nevada where the economic damage will be outsized regardless of the actual number of COVID-19 cases, said Rep. Susie Lee during a live-streamed event on Monday.

“We’re putting the airplane together while we’re flying it,” said Lee of the coronavirus relief efforts recently undertaken by Congress. “We’re literally at war with an invisible invader. One that we don’t all know how it’ll play out.”

Moody’s Analytics forecasts Nevada as the state that will be hit hardest financially. All major resorts and all gambling has been shuttered alongside with other “non-essential businesses” across the state since March 17. Those restrictions are currently scheduled to last until April 30.

Lee acknowledged the grim financial forecast, saying she “will not sugarcoat it” and expects things to get worse before they get better.

“We have been tested in this state before, whether it was the recession of 2008, or October 1st. When we come together, we come out the backside much stronger for it. I know we’re being tested — the most we’ve ever been tested — but I’ve seen incredible acts of innovation and incredible acts of kindness.”

Lee said that a top priority for the state must be diversifying its economy.

“We are at such risk running on a tourism-based economy,” she said.

The 3rd Congressional District representative made the comments during a live-stream event aimed at parents of school-aged children. Nevada Parent Teacher Association President Rebecca Garcia, who moderates a popular Facebook group for parents of Clark County School District students, and State Board of Education member Felicia Ortiz also participated in the event, which was hosted on Facebook.

Lee added that diversifying the economy requires an investment in education: “I think it’s so incredibly important that every parent keep vocalizing how important to the state it is to prioritize.”

“Education and the economy aren’t two separate things,” added Garcia. “Education improves the economic outlook. It’s a good investment.”

That said, Garcia acknowledged that public education in the state is poised to take a major hit. Gov. Steve Sisolak last week directed state agencies and departments to begin preparing for significant budget cuts — 4 percent for fiscal year 2020 and between 6 to 14 percent for fiscal year 2021, according to The Nevada Independent.

Lee said additional federal relief packages are needed to bring additional resources to states, specifically ones that could help them prepare for future emergencies.

“This is not going to be a situation where it’s a one-and-done,” she said. “There will be another pandemic. There will be another period where we may have to shelter in place.”

In the context of education, that could mean professional development that prepares teachers for online or distance learning, added Lee. It could also mean fully funding federal programs like Title-1, which provides additional money to schools with high percentages of students from low-income families.

Lee said she was pushing for policies that would help students both in the K-12 and higher education systems. Payments on most federal student loans have already been suspended through September, and the interest rate on these loans has been set to 0 percent. One additional relief idea being floated is allowing students to refinance their federal loans at significantly lower rates.

Lee said “it doesn’t make any sense” to offer forgivable and low-interest loans to small businesses in the wake of coronavirus but to still force student loan borrowers to pay 7 or 8 percent interest rates.

April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. April currently serves on the board of the Society of Professional Journalists Las Vegas pro chapter. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and three mutts.