Vermont’s at-large congressman has been meeting virtually with different industry sectors in the state this week to discuss how the latest COVID-19 relief bill will affect businesses.
The tourism, hospitality and food sectors are among the businesses most negatively affected by the nearly year-long pandemic. More than 150 Vermont Chamber of Commerce members joined a virtual meeting with Democratic Congressman Peter Welch earlier this week. He told them he believes the federal government is obligated to financially help businesses imperiled by the pandemic. “I was really happy that we finally got another relief package. Close to a trillion dollars as you know. When we finally got a bill done there really is an understanding that it’s the smaller businesses that need the most help. We’ve got to not just save individuals and that’s unemployment, we’ve got to save communities. And those communities are made up of your businesses, restaurants, performance spaces and the money that is in here has much more of an orientation, whether the EIDL loan (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) or PPP (Paycheck Protection Program), towards those smaller businesses. So my hope is that this is going to be a lifeline.”
Inn at the Round Barn Farm owner Kim Donahue had questions about the Paycheck Protection Program. Congressman Welch had his state director Rebecca Ellis explain the key changes in the most recent relief bill. “What enhancements have been made to PPP in this round that will specifically benefit restaurants and lodging properties?”
Welch: “There’s more money in PPP. Rebecca, you want to help us here?”
Ellis: “The most specific thing that will help lodging and restaurants is the fact that the PPP loan maximum will be 3.5 times your average monthly payroll as compared to all other PPP loans which the maximum will be 2.5 times the average monthly payroll. There are a lot of other improvements in the PPP program that will help all borrowers. But that differential in the maximum loan amount is what will be specifically helping the restaurants and lodging.”
Congressman Welch also met virtually with Vermont’s craft beverage owners, which include brewers, vintners and cider makers. Distilled Spirits Council of Vermont President and Smugglers Notch Distillery co-owner Jeremy Elliott noted that with tourism down their tasting room business is suffering. “Tasting rooms drive a lot of revenue to us. Liquid to lips sells our product. So without that many of us in our group are suffering. What we need help with, people are going more on line, we’d like to think about DTC: Direct To Consumer. I’m just asking you to think about it. There’s some state legislation and federal legislation that prevents us from doing DTC. But if we don’t move in that direction and if we’re still very low in numbers for our tasting rooms we’re going to need that help.”
Welch: “I like that term ‘liquid to lips’. It works on me.”
According to the Vermont Chamber of Commerce the state was able to funnel $320 million to businesses during the first round of federal COVID relief.