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Kentucky Restaurateurs Ask McConnell For Lifeline In Coronavirus Bill

Cheryl Beckley | WKU PBS

Two prominent Kentucky restaurant owners say that without direct support from the federal government, they will have to shut down their businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ouita Michel, owner of eight restaurants in central Kentucky, and Ed Lee, owner of 610 Magnolia and Whiskey Dry in Louisville, say that coronavirus-related restrictions on restaurants have made it nearly impossible to stay open, and that federal support has been deficient.

Michel says that her restaurants can’t rely on takeout orders to stay open as Kentucky now only allows restaurants to have 25% of their occupational capacity.

“25% capacity at Wallace Station is like five people,” Michael said of her small restaurant in Midway. “I exceed the capacity with my staff alone…how Wallace will survive the winter, I don’t know.”

The restaurant owners are pushing for a bill called the Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed To Survive Act, or RESTAURANTS, Act, which would create a $120 billion fund to provide grants to struggling restaurants.

Both Michel and Lee received federal assistance from the Paycheck Protection Act, a low interest loan that is forgivable if business owners use the money to keep workers employed.

But Lee says that his businesses have been unable to keep staffing levels up amid the pandemic, as Kentucky has shifted from requiring all restaurants to be closed, to operating at 33% capacity, to operating at 50% capacity and now back down to 25%.

“I don’t know any restaurant in Kentucky right now that could survive a few more months of this,” Lee said.

“For my business, we need at least 50% capacity just to pay the bills, just to keep the lights on. At 25% capacity we are actually losing money every single day that we open our restaurant.”

McConnell unveiled a new coronavirus relief proposal on Monday. It includes liability protections for businesses, money for schools to reopen, another round of $1,200 stimulus checks and lowers the supplement for unemployment benefits from $600 per week to $200.

Michel said that she hopes McConnell includes support for restaurants in the new proposal.

“In Kentucky, we have a unique opportunity to make a difference because of our access to Sen. McConnell and how much he listens to his constituents,” Michel said.

According to the Independent Restaurant Coalition, the bill has bipartisan support in Congress, with 140 cosponsors in the House and 15 cosponsors in the Senate.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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