HARRISBURG, PA (WSKG) – Hospitality businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic will be able to apply for new state grants starting March 15 in most counties, through what’s being called the COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program.
Restaurant and bar owners have pressured state lawmakers for months to give their struggling businesses more help. Though a different grant program was offered last year, as well as low-interest paycheck protection loans, neither has been enough for many small shops.
One estimate reported by Bloomberg showed more than 100,000 restaurants had closed nationwide by the end of last year. Some in Pennsylvania have been forcibly shuttered by the Department of Agriculture for failing to limit the number of dine-in customers or enforcing mask mandates.
“This industry has been disproportionately hurt by this pandemic. The business owners, the employees and the patrons alike were put in an impossible situation with no clear answer,” Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin said.
Gov. Tom Wolf told reporters on Tuesday that businesses can apply for grants of between $5,000 and $50,000 through their local economic development organization or community development financial institution, also called CDFIs.
“This funding is going to make a big difference for businesses in the commonwealth. We need to do more to support a strong economic recovery from COVID-19, and that’s why this program is so important,” Wolf said.
To qualify, businesses must demonstrate they lost at least a quarter of their revenue due to pandemic restrictions. Wolf said those who haven’t applied for state assistance before and those in underserved communities will get priority.
The total funding available varies by county. More populated counties are getting a bigger share of the $145 million that state lawmakers approved for transfer from the state’s workers’ compensation fund last month.
Montgomery County lawmakers said their county is getting over $9 million, while Rep. Marty Flynn (D-Lackawanna County) said his area is getting just over $2 million.
“I know too well the hard work these men and women in the industry put in, from morning to night. These grants are…above and beyond the previous grants and low-interest loans that have been made available,” Flynn said.
This may not be the last cash boost hospitality businesses see. Part of the latest $1.9 trillion federal pandemic relief bill is earmarked for restaurants, something DCED Secretary Davin is hoping will win approval in the U.S. Senate.
“We know the entire problem won’t be solved with $145 million, and we’re hopeful that additional stimulus funding is going to be coming from the federal government very soon,” he said. “But this state funding will provide much-needed relief to so many hospitality businesses across the commonwealth.”
While majority Republicans partnered with Democrats on the bill that approved the grant money, both the House and Senate caucuses have continued to pressure the Wolf administration to lift pandemic restrictions on businesses as soon as possible — seeing it as the only way to help the economy fully recover.
“Over the next several months, the House Republican Caucus will work toward advancing our priorities of economic recovery, protecting families, and creating a government Pennsylvanians can be proud of,” House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff said in January.