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On the Road to Recovery, How are We Doing?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Sarah Sweeney
October 2, 2021

As a public administrator, it has been a bumpy road during the pandemic recovery, particularly when it comes to re-opening buildings and services to the public. Fielding questions and concerns by staff about re-opening plans for our business, changes to policies around vaccination mandates and providing a safe environment for staff and customers have been central to positive leadership. Returning to normal life has been something most of us have waited for, gotten anxious about, and are now a bit disappointed in knowing we are potentially moving backward. As the economy pushes to recover, we will certainly experience the impacts of changes to support services moving forward, especially as financial safety nets are no longer consistently available to those in need. For those workers that have been reliant on financial assistance from the government, returning to work may prove more difficult as competition for positions may grow. Local mandates on vaccination requirements may also create an additional stressor on the economy, as some may lose their jobs if they do not comply with these requirements. The workforce may become increasingly competitive as the concern over in-person services draws workers away from those positions.

One of the largest controversies during the pandemic has been vaccine mandates, and responding to the varied concerns that have been voiced in opposition to them. According to an article from NBC News, the varied opinions in opposition have to do with general wariness toward vaccines, political differences and others just not wanting to be told what to do with their bodies. No matter the reason, it is important to acknowledge differences in opinion and be respectful of all points of view. As public leaders it is important to have a pulse on public reception of any changes to policy and to assist in the dissemination of correct and truthful information. As we continue to navigate what it means to operate in a pandemic, leadership must model the behavior we wish to see and that means building trust and gaining buy-in from our staff and customers. Being honest and upfront with expectations and guidance for our staff and constituents will go a long way in successfully re-opening our economy. Withholding our personal bias or beliefs when disseminating information and instead offering data driven results will go a long way in helping our communities adjust to changing norms in the workplace.

Key supports during the pandemic has been federal bans on evictions, payroll protections and unemployment funding. These have been vital programs put in place to provide coverage for our workforce. Federal bans on evictions have been designed to prevent homelessness and possible overcrowding issues in shelters, and ended in July of this year. As the newest strains of the disease have spread, the CDC has attempted to extend the moratorium, which has been overturned by the Supreme Court. Luckily for renters, some state and local governments have increased their eviction protections and have provided additional coverage for those with no other resources in place. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it has shown us the gaps many communities have in affordable housing, adequate funding for social services and providing a livable wage. As unemployment offerings and payroll protection programs also come to an end, we must identify areas for growth and development in our local economies that are in support of our communities. We saw some positive growth early on in 2021 as vaccinations were more accessible and restrictions eased. However, we are beginning to really feel the effects of the intensified disruption in manufacturing, increasing infection rates and supply shortages across the world and that trickles down to local economies.

Building confidence in local government and public policymakers is important to rebuilding our local communities and can go a long way toward rebuilding a healthy economy. Strategizing with local agencies and service providers, while understanding what is important to our constituents is imperative in forward progress. We can learn from our mistakes in our pandemic responses at the local level and in doing our research on what has worked and what has failed; and building up from there. Taking the time to truly invest in our community re-opening and not rushing through the process will allow for long lasting impacts at the local level. As public administrators we have a unique opportunity to develop and nurture community programs that will support our neighbors for generations to come; we just need to stay committed to what’s important at the local level and across all lines.


Author: Sarah Sweeney is a professional social worker and public administrator in Washington State. She may be contacted at [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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