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'I've now dipped into the pie.' Will COVID-19 change Americans' views of the social safety net?

Marisa Gerber, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- If you had posed the scenario to him as a hypothetical a few months ago -- "Your company will be hemorrhaging cash, and you'll turn to Uncle Sam for emergency funds" -- Jim Brady would've confidently dismissed it.

"Never," he said, "did I think I would need government help."

Brady, 69, started AToN Center, a luxury rehab facility in the hills of Encinitas, with his wife, Patricia, more than a decade ago and built it into a booming enterprise with nearly 70 full-time employees and a five-home campus with a saltwater pool, a sauna and 600-thread-count bedsheets.

But this spring, as the coronavirus charted its deadly path across the country, Brady decided to temporarily stop accepting clients from Washington state and the New York City area -- two early hot spots -- and capped client capacity at 12, instead of 30, so patients didn't have to share bathrooms.

"I went backwards about a half a million dollars in two months," he said. Although his payroll was sinking him, he felt deeply loyal to his staff and desperately wanted to avoid cuts or furloughs.

Instead, he applied for a forgivable loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, part of the government's initiative to help small businesses survive the pandemic, and received just over $800,000, which he used to cover two months of payroll.

 

That decision -- asking for and then accepting federal funds -- has prompted some reflection on his views about government aid, said Brady, who describes himself as "basically Republican," but doesn't always agree with the party leadership. For years, he felt frustrated by all the money skimmed from his take-home salary -- it felt, he said, as if other people were sitting around and benefiting off of his earnings.

"I'm in the top tax bracket," he said. "I didn't like that money going away."

But now that he's watched the positive ripple effect of having received the loan -- how it helped him, his family, his employees and their families -- his views of government assistance have started to evolve.

"I have a very different eye to that now. ... I've now dipped into the pie."

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