As pandemic eases, businesses push Congress for another bailout


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“We are still incredibly vulnerable,” said Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs for the National Restaurant Association.

The lobbying effort is gaining traction, with Republicans signing bills to provide grants to restaurants and gyms even as the GOP balks at President Joe Biden’s multibillion-dollar infrastructure spending plans. Lawmakers on both sides are sympathetic to companies that have been forced to scale back operations, and they say many have not received enough help from previous aid programs.

“Most of the people on my side of the aisle aren’t opposed to additional funding,” said Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri, the top Republican on the House Small Business Committee, who nevertheless opposes the spending plans of Biden.

Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced a bill that would spend $ 60 billion in a new round of restaurant subsidies. The main sponsors are Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) And Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) With representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) And Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).

Congress first established a Small Business Administration grant program in March with $ 28.6 billion – and it has since received $ 75 billion in applications, leaving tens of thousands of restaurants on the sidelines.

The restocking of the restoration program has the backing of the Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate small business committees. Top Republicans are also open to the idea, although some, like Luetkemeyer, want to find a way to reallocate other federal funds that haven’t been used.

“They have been hit hard,” Luetkemeyer said of the restaurants. “They were one of the last groups to be relieved here.”

Although restaurant hiring is increasing, the National Restaurant Association says the industry lost $ 290 billion in revenue during the pandemic and some areas still have capacity limits. Many restaurateurs are in debt and will soon have to repay the rent, advocates say.

“If people pay attention to what’s going on in their community, I think they will find broad support for it,” said Blumenauer.

Small employers hold a special place in the hearts of lawmakers, as evidenced by the overwhelming support given to the Paycheck Protection Program in its various iterations over the past year. Many are contacting their representatives again for help.

Amy Long, co-founder of Orchard at the Office, based in Richardson, Texas, said her restaurant business had taken on hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to stay alive during the pandemic. She has struggled to rehire workers as she is unable to offer full-time hours like she did before Covid-19. She is part of the Independent Restaurant Coalition which is pushing Congress to pass the subsidy law.

“We cannot continue to operate at our current level of sales without additional help,” she said. “We won’t arrive until September.

John Lettieri, chairman and chief executive of the Economic Innovation Group think tank, said he was skeptical of the need for new relief programs for employers at this point in the recovery. But Lettieri said the restaurants had a “strong case” as the existing program “was widely viewed as underfunded and unable to meet demand.”

At the same time, gym and hotel operators are pushing for whole new subsidy programs. It’s unclear if they’ll get the same traction as the restaurants.

Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) And Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) Have proposed legislation that would authorize $ 30 billion for fitness facilities, which could receive grants of up to $ 25 million.

Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) introduced a bill that would provide $ 20 billion in grants to support the salary expenses and benefits of hotel employees. The legislation would require beneficiaries to grant redundant employees recall rights so that they can return to work and would recover the funds if operators did not follow the guidelines of the bill.

The hotel assistance bill has the support not only of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, but also of the UNITE HERE hotel workers union.

Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the hotel group, said earlier versions of the proposal weren’t 100% for employees and included more support for the operators themselves. But Rogers said the group decided they would have a much better chance of succeeding by joining the union and focusing on workers.

“Part of our job is to remind people that this industry could never survive on leisure travel alone, even in the best of circumstances,” he said. “As you see people taking vacations, we recognize that until the big meetings and conventions return and traditional business travel does not return, we cannot fully recover. That is why help is needed. “

In May, a whole new lobbying alliance was formed to convince Congress to give more financial aid to businesses. The Economic Bridge Coalition now has 13 members, including the American Rental Association, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, the Professional Photographers Association and the American Horse Council.

“P3 has been very helpful, but the problem is no longer so much relief as it is reconstruction,” said John McClelland, vice president of government affairs for the American Rental Association, which represents the rental industry. equipment and events. “How do we get these businesses to take over and prosper as soon as possible? “

Lobbyists admit that it will be difficult to convince lawmakers to spend billions more on companies that have survived the pandemic for so long.

With a majority of fully vaccinated adults and a loosening of safety restrictions, the biggest concerns about the economy are that it can overheat and there are simply not enough workers and equipment to go around. world.

The Federal Reserve signaled on Wednesday that it may hike interest rates sooner than expected, indicating that the economy is booming after the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 5.8% in May. Recent surveys by the National Federation of Independent Businesses found that small business optimism has risen steadily for much of this year, but paused in May as labor shortages dampened growth. growth.

“Science shows businesses can safely reopen with widely available vaccines,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, the House Financial Services Committee’s top Republican. “We should focus on the current problem facing employers: not enough workers applying to fill the positions that keep their businesses running. “

And even though the Covid-19 restrictions were recently lifted, tens of billions of dollars in aid continued to flow into businesses. There is more to pay.

The SBA on Wednesday urged media to report that about $ 30 billion in disaster grants was still available to hard-hit businesses in low-income communities. The SBA is also struggling to distribute $ 16 billion in grants to live art and entertainment venues, after encountering serious technical and operational difficulties that derailed the program. The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program approved only $ 531.4 million in aid despite receiving more than $ 11 billion in requests.

“I’ve heard this from members on both sides of the aisle,” McClelland said. “This` We’ve spent a lot of money here, folks. We’ve got to move on. ‘”

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About Christopher Easley

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