Restaurants still struggle as Congress debates new relief options – NECN

Vermont’s only member of the U.S. House of Representatives pledges to push for new financial support for the restaurant industry as it recovers from the difficulties caused by the pandemic – and faces new challenges financial.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, wants to see the Restaurant Revitalization Fund created by Congress replenished with tens of billions of dollars — federal money he said Monday had already been approved for use. other areas of COVID recovery but has never been used.

The Democrat told reporters at a press conference that the fund had bipartisan support earlier in the pandemic, so he’s optimistic it will again when the topic comes back before Congress in the days and weeks to come.

“We really need to help these local communities survive and get to the other side of COVID, so that when people can come back – and we’re getting there now – these wonderful gathering places, venues, restaurants, will continue to serve them and enrich local community life, said Rep. Welch.

Sue Bette, the owner of Bluebird Barbecue in Burlington, said she’s worried about her fellow independent restaurateurs.

Restaurants that haven’t received the grant are under duress,” Bette said of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund money.

The fund has thrown lifelines to the sector hit hard by the pandemic shutdowns. The National Restaurant Association said it saved 900,000 jobs across the country.

However, hundreds of Vermont restaurants never received the money they were approved for because the RRF ran out of money. More than 175,000 businesses in other states are in the same boat, according to the National Restaurant Association.

In addition to trying to recover from COVID, restaurants are now also being hit by a labor shortage, higher food costs and supply chain delays, small businesses noted.

“Without the grant program, you don’t have that stability, and I know for a fact it’s day-to-day,” Bette said of several of the more than 500 restaurants in Vermont that hadn’t received funding. money from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund before. the money was exhausted.

The Vermont Chamber of Commerce said it appreciates the focus on supporting small businesses at a difficult time.

“Many small businesses in Vermont, which make up the majority of businesses in Vermont, are really trying to pick up the pieces and are fighting to stay whole,” said Amy Spear, vice president of tourism for the Vermont Chamber. Trade. “Recovery efforts like the ones being discussed today would allow businesses to not only recover, but to thrive.”

Welch also said he wants to extend the timelines for arts and culture venues to use their COVID recovery grant. He explained that many have struggled to get labor or materials and so could use a bit more time to spend the funds.

Jay Wahl, executive director of the Flynn in downtown Burlington, echoed that the performing arts venue would benefit from greater flexibility to spend recovery funds strategically — rather than having to adhere to strict dates set by the government.

As Rep. Welch works on funds for restaurants and cultural venues, he’s also responding to criticism of his likely opponent in a U.S. Senate race this fall.

Republican Christina Nolan, Vermont’s former chief federal prosecutor, said last week that she doesn’t believe Welch has done enough to show support for law enforcement or oppose fundraising efforts. police forces.

“As a former U.S. Attorney in Vermont, I have a tough case record,” Nolan said in a written statement last week. “I intend to continue to put public safety first as our state’s next U.S. Senator. I have been a strong supporter of law enforcement throughout my tenure in office. Congressman Welch can’t say the same, and that’s why we need new leadership and a new perspective for Vermonters.

However, in an interview with NECN after the restaurant aid press conference, Welch denied Nolan’s accusation.

The Democrat countered that he has long supported grants to local police departments and has a positive relationship with many law enforcement personnel at agencies across the state.

“What I’ve always admired about our police officers here is that they’re at the forefront of doing things to improve public safety and when it comes to training, they’re all there,” Welch said. “So I have always supported the police and I so appreciate how difficult this job is and how essential they are to keeping the community safe.”

Ahead of the U.S. Senate election in November, Welch and Nolan will each appear on primary day ballots in August. They are looking to replace Democrat Patrick Leahy in the Senate when he retires.

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