There is a sense of foreboding with the news this week that Vermont’s lawmakers had decided to target the hospitality industry with $75 million in additional aid. The holidays are just around the corner, winter is stalking us, Covid cases are soaring and we’re being told to stay inside and keep to ourselves.
If you own, or work at a restaurant, a bar, or a lodging business the outlook for the next four to five months is hardly the thing to lift one’s spirits. These are businesses that depend on tourism and social gatherings. No sector has been harder hit.
Legislators were probably correct in guiding the $75 million to those businesses most in need. According to the rules, these businesses would be eligible for grants of up to $300,000. The hope is that it’s enough to get them through until spring.
The hospitality industry may be the one hardest hit, but the pain extends beyond restaurants, bars, ski areas and lodging. When the state’s grant program was announced a total of 3,093 businesses applied, which would have required $227 million in funding to meet their needs.
In other words, there’s is a world of hurt out there, the extent of which we don’t know. The fear is that we will find out when it’s too late, when the doors have been shut and the windows boarded up.
Retailers, for example, will do their best to keep the doors open through Christmas, praying that their mask-wearing patrons will open their wallets between now and the end of the year. For many businesses, the money they make in the last two months of the year is what determines whether they are able to keep the doors open for the next 10 months. If the demand isn’t there, and if there is no additional relief money available, the effect could be considerable.
So there is more to it than tossing $75 million to the hospitality industry. If the pandemic continues to worsen and our economic activity shrinks in response, the need for federal help could be as pronounced as it was last spring.
What’s utterly unforgivable is that Congress sees the same pain we see, yet they have been unable to agree on another stimulus package. The space between Democrats and Republicans is minimal compared to the need, yet there is a growing fear that nothing will happen until Joe Biden is sworn as president on Jan. 20, 2021, and even then that might depend on the two senatorial races in Georgia. If the Republicans maintain control of the Senate, they might be able to stonewall the stimulus packages.
That’s two months from now, closer to three before people could expect the help to arrive, whether it’s a check from the government, additional unemployment funds, or money to help businesses keep their employees.
None of this is frivolous. So why the antics?
Politics. Both sides. More so with the Senate and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
But it was misplayed. And still is. The local restaurant owner doesn’t care who signs the check. What they need is help. The same is felt among all at-risk businesses. And workers who get extra unemployment assistance aren’t asking who to thank. But they are all mindful of those who stand in the way.
With the election over, with the holidays at our doorstep, and with so many businesses and employees at risk, one would think it’s time for those in Congress to grow up and get what needs to be done, done.
by Emerson Lynn