MAINE, USA — Restaurants have struggled tremendously during this pandemic, which is why Maine Restaurant Week has become more important than ever this year.
Support from customers may not be enough to get all owners back on their feet. Senator Angus King is part of a bill proposed in Washington that would provide direct aid to restaurants.
"It's a bipartisan bill that I'm proposing, would provide direct aid to restaurants so when this is all over the workers have some business to go back to," King said.
The 'Restaurants Act' would create a $120 billion restaurant revitalization fund to provide relief to food service or drinking establishments. Grants could be used to support things like payroll, employee benefits, and rent.
"This was something that was obvious to me at the very beginning of this when restaurants along Main Street in Brunswick started either going to carry-out only or closing," King said.
Senator king tells NEWS CENTER Maine Monday morning, he doesn't think people actually know what restaurants have gone through during this pandemic.
"The goal is to pass that bill within the next two weeks and at that point, restaurant owners would be applying for these grants, they are not allowed to double-dip...in other words, it will work with the PPP program, if they got PPP help, they have to show that they needed additional help so that there wasn't a double benefit," King said.
Monday morning, Senator King renewed his support for the 'Restaurants Act,' aimed at restaurants and small franchisees who are facing immense, long-term challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Maine’s restaurants are central parts of our economy and our communities; they create jobs, drive tourism, and provide gathering places that add to the character of our hometowns – on top of cooking up delicious meals for all of us,” said Senator King. “This is a bipartisan bill because protecting these businesses is not a Republican, Democratic, or Independent issue – let’s get this done, and protect these local treasures until we bring this pandemic under control.”
Senator King adds restaurants all throughout the United States finished last year, with sales losses of more than $240 billion and 2.5 million jobs below pre-pandemic levels. He noted, more than 1 in 6 restaurants are closed permanently or long-term.
Small business restaurant owners could apply for grants of up to $10 million to cover eligible expenses and ending eight months after the legislation is signed into law.
Grants could be used to support payroll, benefits, mortgage, rent, utilities, building maintenance and construction of outdoor facilities, supplies (including protective equipment and cleaning materials), food, operational expenses, paid sick leave, debt obligations to suppliers, and any other essential expenses.
"The capacity limits, we are not able to seat as many people, even the busier nights still we have to have people wait," Jenny Goddard, the manager at Kosta's Restaurant and Bar in Brewer, said.
Restaurants in Maine are still restricted to 50 people indoors at any given time, a restriction that pushed some restaurants to the edge.
"There definitely have been some restaurant closures which is really hard to see and we are not sure if they will be able to make it back," said Kerrie Tripp, the executive director of the greater Bangor Conventions and Visitors Bureau.
The director of government affairs for Hospitality Maine Gregory Dugal said this would be an incredible relief to restaurant owners, "because it isn't a loan program that has to be administered, it is a grant program, there are still restrictions on what you can spend it on, but they are nowhere near as great as they are with the PPP program, and there is no worry to pay it back."
Dugal said without this grant many restaurants may not make it.
"We are ready to go back to normal," Goddard said.
"This is a lifeline into these important parts of our community, and it's something I think absolutely needs doing," King said.
For a complete list of the Maine restaurants participating in Maine Restaurant Week, click here.