Restaurant and other business organizations say the $55 million promised by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown for pandemic relief is a good first step, but not nearly enough to prevent widespread closures caused by her temporary “freeze” to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Brown’s two-week statewide freeze on indoor and outdoor dining, indoor exercise and entertainment activities — and social gatherings of more than six unrelated people — took effect on Nov. 18. It will last for four weeks in Multnomah County, and Brown said it could be extended elsewhere, too.
The day before the freeze started, Brown’s office announced the federal CARES Act funds will be prioritized for businesses in the hospitality industry, those hurt by the freeze order, small businesses, and those from Black, Native American and other historically disadvantaged communities.
It will be distributed by the counties, which will each receive a base amount of $500,000 plus more funds on a per capita basis to distribute.
“Our iconic main street businesses have sacrificed too much already in this pandemic,” Brown said.
Jason Brandt, president and CEO of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, had previously called for the Oregon Legislature to create a %75 million relief fund for businesses.
“Our industry applauds the decision by Gov. Brown to create a $55 million relief fund with an emphasis on supporting hospitality businesses. The support represents a starting point for much needed federal action to assist Oregon’s restaurants and hotels in fighting through the upcoming months,” he said.
Sandra McDonough, president and CEO of Oregon Business & Industry, opposed the freeze before it was announced but said OBI was happy to see the fund set up.
“We remain very concerned about the devastating impact the closures will have on small businesses across our state,” she said. “Many may not survive this latest blow. While this fund won’t offset all of the inevitable business losses, it will help many.”
“It’s a start,” said Katy Connors, chair of the Independent Restaurant Alliance of Oregon, “but it will not go a long way with all the debt that’s already been created by the crisis and the shutdown that are occurring.”
The alliance is pushing for a special session of the Oregon Legislature in December to provide more relief and to legalize the sale of cocktails to-go. On Wednesday, Speaker of the House Tina Kotek also called for a December special session of the Legislature.
Connors also said Brown’s ban on outdoor dining is especially unfortunate because many restaurant and bar owners recently have spent tens of thousands of dollars on tents, heaters and other equipment to cope with the wet weather. She noted that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee allowed outdoor dining to continue when he banned indoor dining last week.
Brandt, McDonough and Connors all said health experts agree that people not taking precautions at social gatherings are causing COVID-19 cases to spike in Oregon, not restaurants and bars.