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This is Planet Money from NPR. I remember the last normal day I had March 12, 20/20, and I remember it so vividly because I spent most of it in a studio recording this lighthearted episode with Sarah Gonzalez about the strange new corona virus and how everyone was dealing with it.
We never played the episode, but but here's just a taste from four months ago.
Like not touching your face. Turns out it's impossible to do or finding sanitizer or just going to work with your colleagues or public transportation or even cleaning your hands properly. Most of us have been doing it wrong.
You have never heard this episode because by the time we finished recording it, by the end of the day, even it seemed like everything had changed. Cities shut down. The stock market plunged. Tom Hanks announced they had the virus. The episode felt out of date by the time we left the studio and we just put it on a shelf and forgot about it.
But I think about that episode a lot because at the very end, Sarah and I were talking about hand sanitizer and I did something that I haven't done since maybe for the last time in my life.
I feel confident. To do a hi fi. Oh, last hi fi. I don't know. I don't know. All right, let's do it. We're finally sterilized. The last high five. It was also the last day I rode the subway, the last day in the office, the last day recording in a studio with another human being. In the four months since that so much has happened. So many deaths. The worst economic collapse of our lifetimes.
And we're still in the middle of it. But we wanted to stop for a moment as a show and take a look at what we've been through and how much of our lives have changed in such a short period of time.
Hello and welcome to Planet Money. I'm Robert Smith. Usually we wait until the end of the year to do a special episode. We call the rest of the story where we check in on the people we met that year and find out how they're doing. We're gonna do that show a little early this year because so much has happened so fast today on the show. We're gonna go back over the episodes that we did about Kove IT and report the rest of the story.
We'll track where the money went, who got it and who didn't, and we'll check it. And some of the people we profiled over the last few months, the unemployed, the business owners, the nurses and the man who manufactured a tiny piston to save lives. Planet Money. Tick tock. It's economics. But really, what was it originally? Planet Money.
Tick tock. Radio for your eyes.
But Shortener, that's the last one.
I'm Jen White. The new host of NPR's One, a daily show that asks America what it wants to be. Hear from people across the country. Listeners like you with conversations for the relentlessly curious on the issues that matter most. Join me next time on one day. From NPR and W Ammu. Some of the economic changes in the last four months have been staggering. Tens of millions of people unemployed, bankruptcy skyrocketing. But just as extraordinary has been the response to this challenge, Congress move faster than anyone thought possible to provide three trillion dollars in relief money that went to states and hospitals and businesses, but also to individuals.
Checks for twelve hundred dollars, a six hundred dollar a week boost for unemployment checks across the country. So much money, in fact, that when you look at the charts, the total personal income in the United States went up. Income was higher than it was before the crisis. Even with so many people not working. Those benefits are expiring in a week. And Congress is debating what to do next. A lot is on the line. So we wanted to take this moment to follow up with the people we profiled over the last four months and to see how they're doing.
First up, small businesses. Part of that three trillion dollar package went straight to businesses with fewer than 500 employees. It was called the Paycheck Protection Program. BP, P.P.. That is Nick Fountain, who's with me now. It's true. Nick and I interviewed a bunch of business owners who were applying for these loans for the federal government. They would eventually be turned into grants if they kept their employees. And we traveled out to Queens to meet one person in particular.
My name is Oddur, 14. I am the fourth generation and first female to take ownership of my family's auto repair shop here in Flushing, Queens, New York. It's called Great Bear. Yeah.
And Robert, just to remind people about Audra. We talked to her during the middle of New York, shut down, and her business was pretty much devastated. She does car repair, but nobody was driving. So the amount of money her business was bringing in had gone down 75 percent. And she'd been talking with employees about how she might have to lay them off or furlough them. She didn't really know what. But as a last ditch effort, she applied for this peepee loan and she asked for twenty five thousand dollars.
And last we heard from her, she had been approved for the loan, but she hadn't gotten it yet.
And there was a little bit of drama at the end of the episode because the rollout of this peepy plan by the federal government, it was an absolute mess.
The computers were crashing. Nobody knew the rules. It was first come, first serve. So there's a limited amount of money. And everyone was desperately like refreshing the site, refreshing the site, trying to get through to get these loans.
And after we published the episode, things got a little smoother. The computer system was worked out. Congress put more money into the program. But this other problem arose, which was that it turned out that people who had, you know, banking relationships, people who knew their banker and had them on speed dial were the most likely to get those early loans. And some people without those relationships kind of just gave up. And so now when we look at the data, we actually have a lot of the data.
Now we can see that richer neighborhoods got more of these loans per capita than poor neighborhoods and black and brown neighborhoods. Absolutely.
And if you've followed Twitter any amount over the last few months, you know, there's also been this backlash against businesses who who took the loans.
People have strong feelings on the Internet about who got BPP money. That is an understatement.
Well, there was this whole like you should have taken the money. I deserve the money. And though other people be like, no, you shouldn't take the money. And and the thing the thing that really typified this was the Ayn Rand Institute, named after, of course, the famous author and philosopher Ayn Rand, who talked about the power of the individual and who railed against government handouts. Well, the organization named after her asked for a government handout.
And Robert, you and I have been sort of sending these articles back and forth like, haha, Ayn Rand Institute. Got it. But all these articles really missed the point of the program, which was to get as much money into business owners hands as quickly as possible so that they could keep people on the payroll and at least for Audra. When I talked to her this week, that seems to have happened. Yes. You called Audrey back. Tell me everything.
Well, we face timed. And quick side note. She was wearing one of those masks. Have you seen these people send in a photo of them smiling and it's printed on the map? No. And so it's just very weird.
Hey, Audra. Hi there. I met you at the shop. Yes. How you been? We're doing OK.
You know, as far as I guess you're asking with the PPE and not the peepee, but the BPP, GPP.
I see that you're set with the PPE. You got the mass. You got the gloves. How about the BPP?
The PDP came through. Great. I got the money. It was timely. She got the money.
Yeah. She asked for twenty five thousand dollars. She got all of it. And she says that it's been a huge help because business isn't actually at full strength yet. And despite that, she's been able to keep her whole team together.
Is a unity that happened and I can't make that up. The relationships. Yeah. It seems like you have such an awesome team and it would have been such so heartbreaking to lose any of those guys and you didn't have to.
Well, you didn't have to. I chose not you. This is one example of a team that was able to stay together, which is good, which is exactly what this program was meant for.
Yes, totally. Are people working in on the floor right now? You want to. He was a Cedric Chir.
Robert, you remember Cedric King heard read mechanic, the guy who showed us all those drills? Yeah, yeah. We recorded drills for ten and he drills. I'd be happy to hear from you. So anyways, I got to talk to him for a second.
Hi. Hey, Cedric. What's going on? All right. I have a very good news for my wife. We've got the current baby. You're having a baby.
Yeah, that's awesome. Such a happy ending. Thanks, Nick. You bet. The last four months were obviously hard for businesses that shut down. But in some ways it was worse for the employees of the businesses that had to stay open. Those workers were essential. They weren't going to get fired. So no unemployment checks and they had to show up for work in the middle of a pandemic. Sarah Gonzalez profiled some of those workers.
Hey, Sarah. Hey, Mary. Sarah, you visited a grocery store because you had to because you were doing a story about grocery workers. Yeah. Essential workers. Tell us what the story was. So about three months ago, I spent a morning at a grocery store in North Carolina with the central workers. And just to like remind listeners, this was a grocery store where everyone was a person of color and mostly the people working there were women.
I don't know if you guys remember this.
Oh, no. White people work here. No, we do have, you know, a little bit of everything except white people.
Yeah, that was for Team Up Yvonne. She works at Compare Food Supermarket. And when we spoke in April, she was trying to bring herself to ask for a raise because her job had gotten a lot riskier than she signed up for with the virus.
And that was one of those interesting things about this story, is normally when a job is riskier, you get paid more for it. But in this case, no one had gotten a raise yet.
Yeah, no, no, no hazard pay. And Fátima made nine dollars and 20 cents an hour, which came out to about three hundred dollars a week, which we should say is a lot less than she would have made if she had been fired and put on unemployment.
Sara, you you called. You called her back.
What did she say? Yeah, we checked in this week. Hey, Atima. Hey, I'm good. How are you? So I'm just curious what's going on with you.
Somebody my job. Oh, nothing new is. I got a raise. You got a raise? Yeah. Like, I like a good raise, you know.
So but Tima got a raise. You got a one dollar an hour raise. But it was kind of she didn't actually ask for the raise though. So the whole point of the episode was about how it's like a really bad time to ask for a raise because workers don't have a ton of power right now. Employers are not really worried that they're going to lose their employees to other companies because not to measure hiring, but the way that Fatuma kind of got her raise so far, Tima actually recently started a little side job, like she's selling women's clothes online through like a social media thing mainly.
And she told her bosses that she was planning to leave the grocery store by the end of the year. And then, like a one dollar pay increase, just kind of appeared on her based at that.
That's the way you do it. That's the way, man.
This is what happens when workers have options. A couple other little updates. Everyone, if a team is grocery store, has since received a one time, four hundred dollar bonus. So that's great. So, like a little bit of good news there. But as for like a nationwide hazard pay for essential workers. Yeah, we still have not done that yet. As a country. Thank you so much, sir. Of course.
Right now, hospitals are overwhelmed in Arizona, Texas and Florida. And when that was first happening here in York City, we did a piece about Bellevue Hospital and how they were preparing for what looked like a surge of patients that they might not be able to handle. Hosting that episode was Amanda Rohn. Check him into. Hey there, Robert.
So take us now four months out. How did Bellevue do?
Right. So the person that we spoke with back in, I think was actually April 1st, was a woman who ran sort of nursing operations for Bellevue.
So my name is Maria Scarer Marziano. They call me MIA.
Remember, Bellevue Hospital is the oldest public hospital in the country. They don't turn patients away, which is partly why they were so worried about the surge of patients showing up at their doorstep and back when we first spoke with MIA. She was right in the middle of the chaos.
Yeah. So that week, Amanda was that was the week where we really surged. We had the peak of Colvard patients. And at peak, roughly how many would you have? Probably about 400 with with 110 in the critical care areas.
The main economic focus of this episode, I remember, was about hospital beds. Economists have long argued that keeping extra hospital beds, just lying around increases health care costs. Which is fine until there's a pandemic. And we were worried that Bellevue Hospital would run out of places to put patients. So did that ever happen? No, Bellvue did not run out of hospital beds. They kept repurposing rooms, adding beds, repurposing rooms, adding beds, and they had enough.
The surge plan worked.
Then slowly, round mid-May, things did start to slow down. They got better. And as of this week, Bellevue has just thirty people in the hospital who are covered.
Positive. Fantastic. That's great. And every time one of those patients recovers, empties that hospital bed, the staff does this little celebration.
We had, you know, Alicia Keys and Jay Z's New York would play every time we discharge the patient.
So, you know, it was that was so uplifting to staff because, you know, you would be just going through your day either and patient care, organizing, staffing, and all of a sudden the music would start to play and everybody knew what that meant. And they have discharged 14 hundred patients over the last few months who recovered positive? Wow.
Well, you know, of course, Mia is sitting there watching all of these other states, and it's terrifying. And Bellevue is worrying about a surge for the fall, which I think many hospitals are worrying about. And so, you know, they're not adding more hospital beds in anticipation of that. They're just like we have this surge plan. And if we have to, we will do it again.
Thanks so much, Amanda. Yes. You're welcome. After the break, we'll check in with the car parts company that switched over to make ventilator's in order to save lives. The indicator from Planet Money is your source for daily economics news. All in less than 10 minutes a day. I was in my apartment and I burst into tears. How am I going to make my rent? We are really in crisis. I keep getting the runaround when unemployment.
Listen and subscribe to the indicator from NPR. A Minneapolis business owners daughter is called out publicly for racist anti black tweets, fighting to save his business and trying to make amends. He calls on a prominent black Muslim leader for help. He's an Arab Muslim and his brother. I'm here today. Tell me what to do. To hear what happens next. Listen to Code Switch from NPR.
A lot of the very early episodes we did about covered were about getting ready, getting ready hospital beds and getting ready for ventilators. Karen Duffin and Kenny Malone followed one company as they completely transformed their business from car parts to health care. And we wanted to find out how that worked out. Hey, Kenny. Hey, Robert. So for people who didn't hear this story on ventilators and it was it was very, very emotional for a story that was fundamentally about a global supply chain.
Tell us what the story was about. Well, this story happened towards the beginning of the pandemic when it was starting to become clear that there was a massive shortage of ventilators.
And so we followed an effort to ramp up supply very quickly within one company near Seattle called Bentek. And in order to make these complicated ventilators, they needed to suddenly ramp up production of like 300 different parts all around the world. And so General Motors had, in fact, come in to help them with their supply chain. And so we went all the way down the supply chain and found this one company in Minneapolis that normally makes auto parts, but was switching over to help make these ventilators.
And one of the parts they were making was this like tiny little handheld piston.
And I remember really vividly this moment when the man who runs the company, Todd Olsen, he sees this little tiny piston that goes into the ventilator, his part of this whole supply chain. He sees it being made for the first time over the first part of the project.
That's that's. So that's it. That's one of the pistons right there. Here we go. Hardest for you right now.
That happened back in March. And when we finished the story, the company had still not finished its very first ventilate. The first ventilator hadn't gone out to a hospital any day.
That's right. So since then, what has happened to the company? Well, for Todd's company, it took a while to get this this full ventilator effort up and running. And they're just one piece of it. They're ready. But because it took so long to get everything going, they actually ended up having to lay people off for a while to furlough people until the ventilator thing was up and running.
And you did mention to us that that Todd's company got one of those peepee loans. We talked about three million dollars and did end up hiring everyone back eventually, which is great.
Yeah, that's right. That's right. The real benefit here is, is that medical devices was an area that Todd Olson was hoping to get into. And as the automotive industry has declined, and as he has shown on a very large stage, that his company can can rise to this challenge. Medical devices have become a huge part of his company. And, in fact, are probably going to get him through this, not just not losing money, but actually maybe making money.
The medical business overall is going up for him and he's very happy. Well, congratulations on not being the guy who ruined the company, even though it had survived the Spanish flu World War to the economic collapse. Congrats.
I think I'm only the fourth CEO that we've had face added up in 100 years. Yeah, I didn't want to be that guy.
Oh, no. Even a few months later, Kenny, it's easy to forget. How panicked we were about ventilators and the notion that there would be Americans who were sick and would have to go without them. And the question is like, are there too many ventilators now?
Well, you know, I asked thought about this.
And he says from his perspective, yes. Like there are markets where there are too many. But he is still seeing orders going up.
And so there may be too many ventilators in the market. But, you know, it seems like that's a good thing to have. Right. Of all the problems we have to worry about now. And there are a lot of problems. At least we're not worrying about whether everyone in the United States, American who gets sick, who's in the ICU, can get a ventilator or not because they can. Great. Thanks, Kenny. You are welcome.
You know, when we listen back to the episodes we've done over the last four months, it is sort of shocking how almost naive we were at first about the scale of what was happening.
In fact, Karen Duffett and I, Karen joins me now. Hi, Kyra. Hi, Robert. Karen and I did this episode about unemployment.
This is in the first few weeks of the crisis. And at the time, three million people had applied for unemployment.
And we were just done back when we were innocent and we thought three million was a big number. And now we're at. Yeah. Now we're at. More than 30 million people have applied since March for unemployment. And in fact, for the past 17 weeks in a row, one million people have applied every single week.
I don't think anyone's really come to terms yet with the scale of that number or what it means. But I know that you've been following at least five of the people that we profiled in in that very first show on unemployment and talked to them. How are they doing?
That's right. I checked in with the five people that we spoke with in March just to see how they're doing. One of the people I checked back in with was Chelsea Spring. She lives in Long Island City.
She was the manager of the spa in Manhattan that had to close because of covert.
As I recall, you were pregnant when we spoke in March. And now I imagine you're very pregnant.
I so do it. 19 days. Wow. And I'm very round.
Very hot. It will be her first child, a boy, and she is still unemployed. But fortunately, her husband still has his job.
It was not an easy road at first. I really, really went through some, like, deep struggles and like digging through my past and fretting about the future. And I don't know, I just feel like a completely different person. I just always used to feel like everything had to be a certain way before I had to be on a certain path. I was like, I have to be making money. I have to have like a status. I have to have a job.
And when it all got taken away and now I'm like, what I have is fine. My good half is good.
Probably the biggest change for all the people I spoke with came from Laurie Winslow in Colorado. She and her husband made ice cream in bulk for restaurants and restaurants are, of course, not putting in very many orders right now. And it costs Lori and her husband more than 4000 dollars a month just to have their equipment in a warehouse.
And so we we had to decide how many months are we willing to lose? You know, three to four thousand dollars. So long story short, we negotiated a sale of the equipment to another ice cream company and this new company started a lease. It'll start August 1st. And they gave me, you know, and we just finalized that this week. Wow.
And so so August will be the first time in how many years that you guys are not making ice cream.
So 15 years, 50 years says the world's dumbest question. But I mean, how does that feel? This has been your baby for 15 years.
Well, so I don't. I mean. It stinks. We are going gonna do a long wrap up for the show, but we couldn't come up with anything better than that. It stinks. Thanks so much, Karen. No problem. Hey, can you stick around and do the credits with me? Absolutely. This is the part where we say we love to hear from you. And we do. We we do. We read all your e-mails and your tweets.
So please send them. You can reach us at Planet Money at Newport. Org. We're also on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook at Planet Money and on Tick-Tock. Now you've got to watch the tick tock.
Today's show is produced by Litsa Yagur. Alexi Horowitz. Ghazi. James Sneed. And special thanks to Darian Woods, who produced the episode that never aired. Our supervising producer is Alex Goldmark and our editor is Brian. Earth stuff. I'm Robert Smith.
And I'm Karyn Deafen. This is NPR. Thanks for listening.