While speaking before an intimate gathering of small business owners at the Southampton Historical Museum recently, U.S. Representative Tim Bishop painted a grim picture of the national economy and said the relatively stable local economy might not be that way for long.
Even so, Mr. Bishop said he does have hope for the future.
“The situation is not good at all and likely to get worse,” the congressman said, noting that 250,000 jobs have been lost nationally since January and he expects an additional 500,000 lost by July. Mr. Bishop used the word “recession” to describe the economy to the approximately 50 people who attended his talk on Friday, April 11.
But the recently approved federal economic stimulus package could remedy the economy’s declining health, he said, noting that the package includes tax rebates that could spark some much-needed commerce at local businesses.
“The rebate checks will start being sent out in mid-May,” Mr. Bishop said, referring to the recently passed bill that is giving taxpayers between $600 and $1,200 from the federal government. The congressman said the rebates will put $140 billion into the hands of people who he expects to spend it quickly, which is a good thing.
“What this economy needs more than anything else is customers,” he said.
Not all of Mr. Bishop’s ideas, or ideas he supports, were passed in the first economic stimulus package though, and he said he is hoping to pass a second package soon. The first stimulus package was a compromise and it left out an extension of unemployment compensation. Millions of unemployed citizens are hitting their 26th and final week of unemployment compensation and an additional 13 weeks of benefits could get them to spend, Mr. Bishop explained.
Although the congressman is optimistic about the possibility that unemployment benefits will be extended, not everyone at the talk shared his enthusiasm. Business owners’ unemployment insurance rates increase the more their ex-employees collect and the seasonal nature of the East End can create loopholes for people to abuse the system and avoid working half the year, one business owner explained.
“We have to be careful about abuses,” the congressman said, but added that the bulk of people who would receive the extra unemployment “are not gaming the system.”
Also during his talk, Mr. Bishop took a moderate stance on immigration, calling for a “cease fire” and noting that no solution would come if people continue to call for deportation or use hurtful language toward the Hispanic community. “The status quo is unacceptable,” Mr. Bishop said in an interview after his talk. “We are not going to fix the status quo with angry voices.” Instead, he suggested a system of “earned legalization,” where illegal immigrants could become legal by learning to speak English, paying a fine and back taxes and learning civics, to eventually gain permanent residency.
“The smaller problems melt away if we solve the big problem,” Mr. Bishop said, adding that cries for deportation and accusations that allowing illegal aliens to become citizens is like giving a “free pass” take the community further from a resolution.
“We are all children of God,” he went on to say, and asked for a “reasonable, enforceable, humane way” to deal with the illegal immigration issue.
Mr. Bishop was invited to speak at the museum as a means to increase its membership and programs, according to Executive Director Tom Edmonds. Programs like the congressman’s talk help to include and attract the local business community, he said. “It’s not about money, it’s about a relationship,” Mr. Edmonds said, noting that those relationships could bring new interest to the museum and create more fruitful interactions with businesses.
Mr. Edmonds said that he thinks the evening was a success and that he hopes to continue to have programs for the business community. He’s working on ideas for future events that would involve business owners holding talks of their own and becoming involved in event sponsorship.