People around the world find themselves in the midst of one great, shared experience. Social distancing and large-scale quarantine measures became the norm in the months of March and April for many in the U.S. Colleges and schools stand empty, workplace conversations take place on laptops around kitchen tables or, in many industries, not at all. We spoke with a few of our members whose lives, work and studies have been directly impacted since governments across the U.S. took measures to slow COVID-19’s spread. The answers have been lightly edited for clarity.
What is your title and what does your organization do in “normal” times?
“I am the Oklahoma State Representative for District 53 (Moore, Oklahoma). I introduce and vote on bills that represent the interests of people in my district and the state. I’m the Chair of the Appropriations and Budget on Education Subcommittee, Assistant Majority Floor Leader and a member of the Business, Commerce and Tourism Committee, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Capitol Restoration Oversight Committee.”
How did the COVID-19 issue impact your day-to-day work?
“Our members and staff worked remotely, while voting by proxy was allowed for elected representatives. We limited physical meetings, enforced social distancing and medical screenings and created a totally different working environment.
“The volume of constituents reaching out to my office drastically increased. The majority of issues were with difficulties filing for and/or receiving funds for unemployment benefits and PUA. Many constituents lives were in crisis. The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission was not prepared with enough qualified staff nor the technology to keep up with thousands and thousands of claims, many of which were for self-employed and 1099 employees that typically do not qualify for benefits (because unemployment taxes are not paid by those entities).
“The Oklahoma Legislature was able to pass a budget, but there was limited legislation this year due to the crisis.”
What are the biggest challenges you face in your work in the coming months?
“We are currently living uncertain times with global markets in decline and the oil and gas industry at an all-time low. Our state budget is heavily reliant on oil and gas production. There are concerns about the COVID-19 situation and the effects our state and the health of our citizens in the coming months.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, I worked tirelessly for two weeks to get five Oklahomans back from a medical mission trip in Kenya. We were finally able to get them home, just 24 hours before the country shut down.
“As a board member of the Maisha Project, the decline in contributions might not allow me to return to Kenya again this year. I was also hoping to return to Nicaragua in the fall, but that is also questionable.”
Have there been any positives you could point to during this time?
“It has been a huge positive to witness how Oklahomans have joined together during this crisis. It is also a positive that Oklahoma has taken the lead in state response to COVID-19 preparedness.”