‘We Have to Get It Soon:' Vt. Congressman Pushes for $120-Billion Restaurant Rescue Package

Rep. Peter Welch has signed on as an early backer of the proposed RESTAURANTS Act

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Expressing grave concern over predicted restaurant closures around the country that could follow losses from COVID-19, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, is lending his support to a proposed rescue package for indie eateries.

"I believe we will never get back to normal without revitalizing our downtowns," Welch said in an interview Monday with NECN and NBC10 Boston.

Welch is part of a coalition in Congress backing new legislation known as the "RESTAURANTS Act," which stands for "Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed To Survive."

The proposal would create a $120-billion program to offer relief to restaurants through 2020.

It is meant to prop up small businesses, not chains with 20 or more locations of the same name, by giving grants through the U.S. Treasury Department. The money would help with mortgages, rent, materials, food, and other costs.

The aim is to bring a quarter's receipts back up to 2019 levels, so jobs could be saved, Welch explained.

Under the idea, if an eatery closes permanently before the end of the year, it has to return unused money.

A full summary of the legislation is available on the website of Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon.

"We have to get it soon," Welch said of what he sees as an urgent need for financial support for restaurants. "Having it get there late is too late because if they're out of business, we're not going to be able to put them back in business."

Welch said he bets the proposal will be met with bipartisanship since folks in red districts and blue districts alike are struggling. Early backers of the idea are from both parties and Vermont's lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In downtown St. Albans, Mimmo's is one of countless restaurants across the country asking for customers' support—whether through take-out or dining in—as owners everywhere work to crawl out of the deep hole of losses COVID-19 dealt them.

"It's been a hard challenge," said manager Sophia Spano, whose family owns three Mimmo's locations, in St. Albans, Essex, and South Burlington. "We're taking all the precautions—we're constantly cleaning, constantly sanitizing."

Vermont restaurants can expand to 50% capacity, or 75 people, whichever's less, starting this Friday, June 26. That capacity percentage is up from the current 25%.

Guidance on what to expect as businesses in Vermont gradually reopen is available here.

"I know how devastating this has been for far too many businesses, but especially those in the hospitality sector" Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, said last Friday. "Please know we're working every day to find ways to open you up further while limiting the spread of the virus."

Back at Mimmo's, Spano offered a reminder that plenty of other businesses—including dairy and produce farmers—depend on the restaurant sector, too.

"We help the breweries, we help the wineries, we help everyone, so by helping restaurants you're helping the whole community," Spano said.

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