After months of being shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, states across the country are slowly beginning to lift restrictions, allowing for businesses to open their doors to patrons. While this is certainly positive news, the country is still faced with a daunting economic recovery. Unfortunately, many businesses, especially small and independent restaurants, were unable to weather the COVID-19 storm and are now closing for good. And for those of us still open, we are only hanging on by a thread. The harsh reality is that the future of restaurants is still entirely uncertain as the country waits for a vaccine — and we need COVID-era solutions that will help us survive.
Restaurants have long served an important role in our nation’s communities. We are major employers, with more than 1 million locations employing a diverse workforce of 15.6 million people across the nation and contributing a total economic impact of $2.5 trillion, according to the National Restaurant Association. But, most importantly, restaurants give back to the communities in which we live and operate and are a gathering place for friends, family, neighbors and even strangers.
While early actions by Congress helped many small business owners, including restaurateurs, withstand the initial shock of COVID-19, our assistance has been exhausted as the impacts of coronavirus extend into the summer. Because of the social distancing guidelines and limitations on indoor dining, many restaurants are nowhere near being back on their feet. No one expected this scenario would last as long as it has. However, it’s the reality we face, and now it’s Congress’s responsibility to act.
The sad truth is that many small business owners who utilized the first round of the Payment Protection Program funding in late March no longer have the financial backstop to sustain their operations. And now, thousands of businesses, mostly working in hospitality, could be forced to lay off millions more workers starting this month because of the continued hardship they are facing. The good news — there is an easy solution our lawmakers can adopt that will save jobs and the small businesses that are the heart of local our communities.
I am pleased to say we have bipartisan support, with our very own Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) leading the way, along with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), in beginning to draft a bill that will save millions of jobs and thousands of businesses. Right now, there remains more than $120 billion in round two of PPP funding that has not only been approved by Congress but remains unallocated. If Congress were to shift just $15 billion (that’s one-half of what restaurants and hotels received in the first round of PPP funding) of the unallocated funding and let the businesses who secured loans in the first PPP round access additional funding, these establishments would get the support they need as the impacts of the coronavirus persist into the summer. This would not only help our businesses keep the restaurant workforce gainfully employed, but Congress would not need to appropriate any more taxpayer money. It simply shifts existing PPP funds to the businesses who most need it now.
This additional infusion of PPP capital into these businesses would be critical to their financial survival and carry them through the summer, at which point most will be on more solid footing and functioning closer to normal as operating restrictions are lifted in a safe and responsible manner. But without this additional support, these businesses will be forced to take a step backward — laying off the employees they hired back from unemployment or kept on their payrolls since the beginning of the crisis; or, even worse, shuttering their doors for good.
As the devastating effects of COVID-19 have continued to impact my brothers and sisters in the restaurant industry, I’ve been inspired by their collective resiliency and will to survive for their employees and local communities. This strength is a heartening reminder of who we are as restaurateurs and an industry as a whole. And, with the continued support from lawmakers, like Sens. Shaheen and Rubio, and the enactment of targeted financial relief, we will continue to display this strength and resiliency and outlast these troubled times — together.
Thomas Boucher is owner and CEO of Great NH Restaurants Inc., Bedford, N.H.
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