Omicron sparks commercial uproar over Washington lifeline

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“If Congress finds that it can’t focus on the Build Back Better Act, it gives them an opening to look a little more locally at their districts,” said Sean Kennedy, executive vice president for business of the National Restaurant Association.

The outcry poses a new challenge for the Biden administration and congressional leadership as the 2022 midterm elections approach. While the previous small business bailout was one of the most largely bipartisan elements of the response from Congress to Covid, recent attempts to replenish relief programs have failed to gain traction.

“Instead of lifting all the boats, we only lifted a few, leaving dozens of small business owners in the cold through no fault of their own,” more than 60 House members said in a letter. bipartisan leadership to Hill leaders on December 17. “Many of these small business owners have incurred extraordinary debt while they await much-needed federal help. We must help them before it is too late.

The Biden administration has yet to join the push as part of its response to Omicron.

“Of course, we will continue to closely monitor the economic recovery and monitor whether future developments require targeted resources, but these would require action and congressional buy-in,” the House spokesperson said. Blanche, Emilie Simons.

The new aid surge faces several potential policy challenges.

So far, Omicron has not triggered widespread lockdowns to enforce social distancing. And while a number of Republicans defend the relief effort, some are likely to resist further federal spending – in part thanks to the emergence of billions of dollars in potential fraud in past programs.

It would likely be targeted at specific industries if it gained traction, unlike the Paycheck Protection Program, which made forgivable loans available to a wide range of industries.

The small business lobbying coalition has split around the issue, with key groups such as the International Franchise Association focusing their efforts instead on the labor shortage and the vaccine mandate.

“Everyone is waiting to see what Omicron is doing or doing,” said Kevin Kuhlman, vice president of federal government relations at the National Federation of Independent Business. “In a month it may look a lot different. “

Data from the US Census Bureau indicates that many employers were already struggling just as Omicron struck. A survey conducted Dec. 13-19 found that 36% of businesses already believed it would take more than six months to return to normal operations, and 12% did not expect normality to ever return. About 45 percent had delays from domestic suppliers while 31 percent had difficulty hiring. Almost 24% experienced a drop in their income in the past week.

The latest wave of Omicron adds to the woes of business owners, with restaurants in particular experiencing a slight increase in voluntary closings and resorting to limited service as cases rise during the critical holiday season. About 90,000 restaurants have closed long-term or permanently during the pandemic, according to the National Restaurant Association.

“The holiday season is where they make the income that allows them to survive the lean winter months, when alfresco dining is not an option and people travel less during the holidays,” said Kennedy from the Restaurant Association.

This adds new urgency to the restaurant industry’s long-standing lobbying campaign to replenish the Small Business Administration’s $ 28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which has seen demand for grants surpass by far from the funding available of nearly $ 44 billion earlier this year.

“This will be the time when we will likely see the restaurants that have received grants from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund have the capacity to weather this latest crisis in a way that those who did not receive this funding do not,” said Erika Polmar, executive director of the Coalition of Independent Restaurants.

Gyms are also asking for extra help. The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association says nearly a quarter of all gyms, health clubs and studios have closed their doors permanently. Liz Clark, the group’s chief executive officer, said Omicron could cause more damage.

“Congress kept telling us to wait, but American gyms can’t wait any longer,” she said.

Business groups see legislation being drafted by Senate President for Small Business, Ben Cardin (D-Md.) And Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) As the most likely vehicle for help additional.

Sources familiar with the discussions around the bill said it would likely include more funding for restaurant subsidies and targeted aid for other specific industries, potentially including gyms, minor league baseball teams and others. border companies.

Determining which industries enter and which exit will be a key dynamic in determining whether the bill can attract the 60 Senate votes necessary to overcome a possible obstruction.

Polmar, with the Independent Restaurant Coalition, said his group plans to use the congressional vacation as an opportunity for restaurateurs to advocate with lawmakers while they return home to their neighborhoods.

“We’re not going to sit quietly,” she said. “Our grassroots rights network has over 100,000 members. They are more excited than ever.

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