Federal relief could provide much needed funding for restaurants

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – It has been a rollercoaster year for restaurant owners like Sheila Arredondo, owner of Silly Serrano in Eau Claire.

“When COVID first hit we saw a boom in business, the community really supported us, the stimulus checks were rolling in, people were all on board of making the restaurants successful and keeping us in business. The first couple months we were riding that high and then as COVID settled in and the stimulus checks weren’t continuing, Christmas was coming, things started to drop off,” she says.

Arredondo says it has been difficult to keep up with indoor dining with limited space for social distancing. Federal funding would be a huge help to her business as they continue to balance the financial impacts of the pandemic.

“It would really help with the staffing, paying employees and keeping employees. We have really had to cut back and honestly my husband and I work more in order to keep ends meet and keep things going so we don’t have to close our doors,” Arredondo says.

New legislation called the RESTAURANTS Act of 2021 would create a $120 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund to help restaurants recover from the pandemic. Owners could apply for money to use towards payroll, benefits, mortgage, rent, utilities, maintenance, supplies, food, operational expenses, paid sick leave, debt obligations to suppliers, and any other expenses deemed essential by the Secretary of the Treasury.

“It is coming up on a year that restaurants have really not been able to operate,” says Kristine Hillmer, Wisconsin Restaurant Association President & CEO. “The RESTAURANTS act would provide some much needed revenue to restaurants in order to survive.”

Hillmer estimates it could take some of the state’s restaurants years to recover from the pandemic and says federal relief could not come soon enough.

The legislation is sponsored by Senators Roger F. Wicker (R-Miss.) & Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) & Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) & Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA).

On Thursday, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) expressed support for the bipartisan legislation.

“For the last year, local restaurants and workers across Wisconsin have fought to keep their doors open, and they need our support now more than ever to survive this economic crisis,” said Senator Baldwin in a press release. “Many small and independent restaurants are operating at reduced capacity and may be forced to close their doors for good if we don’t act now. Our legislation will create a new revitalization fund that will help folks in Wisconsin and across the country get through this pandemic and keep our Made in Wisconsin economy moving forward.”

Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) has not taken a position on the bill.

The bill is in the early stages of the legislative process however business owners like Arredondo see other glimpses of hope in the future like vaccines and a return to outdoor dining this summer.

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