For business owners and employees in Portland, Maine, especially in the city’s renowned restaurant industry, news from Washington has given hope of a bit more financial certainty.
With congressional leaders reaching a bipartisan agreement on a new $900 billion round of coronavirus relief funding, people in Portland's business community expect more restaurants, bars and other establishments will be able to weather winter’s limitations on outdoor dining and tourism.
“These funds are a lifeline,” said Quincy Hentzel, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, adding that most businesses in Maine are entering their slowest months of the year.
Many restaurants have, in previous years, been able to rely on summer income to last them until warm weather returns. But COVID-19 meant very few tourists came to Maine in summer 2020.
“I don’t think the revenues were that high over the summer to carry these businesses through the dark winter months,” Hentzel said.
News of the agreement was also welcomed by Andrew Volk, co-owner of the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club, a cocktail bar and restaurant.
“I hope that it helps us get through the winter, I hope that it helps us keep some of our staff from going on unemployment,” he said of the funding’s direct impact.
But Volk is concerned the $900 billion in aid does not go far enough and underestimates how dire a situation the food and beverage industry is in. He said the legislation seems more like “a Band-Aid for the immediate term.”
Volk hopes the new Biden administration will push Congress to work on further relief in the new year and pass the RESTAURANTS Act, a piece of draft legislation that would set up a unique, $120 billion program overseen by the Department of Treasury specifically designed to see restaurants through until the pandemic passes.
“I certainly hope this is a stopgap for the Biden administration to pick up,” Volk said of the bill agreed to this week.
Congress was expected to take final votes to pass the new COVID-19 relief package Monday night or early Tuesday. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the legislation into law once it reaches his desk.