A local state senator wants to distribute up to $500 million in CARES Act funding to struggling businesses in the tourism and hospitality industries.

Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Bullskin Township, along with Sen. Scott Martin, a Lancaster County Republican, said they intend to introduce a bill that would provide direct financial assistance to struggling businesses like restaurants and bars.

“Every restaurant owner I’ve talked to said they could never build their business on 25% capacity,” Stefano said, referring to Gov. Tom Wolf’s order in July that reduced indoor dining capacity to 25% and put new limitations on alcohol sales. “[The restaurants] are dying, and they’re dying quickly.”

Earlier this month, Wolf rolled back some of the restrictions, opening indoor dining to 50% capacity starting today, and prohibiting alcohol sales after 11 p.m. To move to increased capacity, restaurants owners must self-certify they are complying with virus-related mandates and other efforts to quell the spread of COVID-19.

“The new restaurant orders are essentially one step forward and two steps back for many business owners. The level of uncertainty makes it almost impossible for these businesses to plan or budget,” said Stefano, who serves as chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee. “The winter season is far more difficult on the tourism and hospitality industries in the state.”

Stefano said action needs to be taken now to preserve the thousands upon thousands of jobs that rely on these industries before it’s too late.

The lawmakers highlighted the fact that many of these businesses not only suffered financial losses for months due to the mandated business shutdown order earlier this year, but also continue to grapple with unclear and confusing occupancy mandates from the state Department of Health.

“Many of these businesses have been forced to close their doors because of overly restrictive and unpredictable mandates that are based on hazy or non-existent data. We need to be safe, but we also shouldn’t put people at risk of losing a livelihood they’ve been building for their entire lives,” Martin said. “Some businesses have changed their entire business model to find new and innovative ways to open and serve customers, but they are still barely holding on.”

Restaurant and food service jobs make up approximately 10% of employment in Pennsylvania. According to the state’s Independent Fiscal Office, more than 134,000 of these jobs were lost in 2020.

While Stefano said they’re still working on the particulars of the bill, right now, they’re calling it a lifeline for businesses that are suffering through COVID-19-related restrictions.

“It will help them to cover some of the losses they felt over the last six months,” Stefano said.

The funding would come from Pennsylvania’s share of funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

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