State lawmakers call on Congress to expand Paycheck Protection Program amid COVID-19 pandemic to help struggling restaurants


MANCHESTER, Conn. (WTNH) — Senator Richard Blumenthal and Governor Ned Lamont stopped by Geno Auriemma’s restaurant in Manchester on Wednesday to call on Congress to expand the Paycheck Protection Program, which they said has saved many restaurants hit hard by the pandemic-driven economic crisis.

As summer draws to a close, so too will the kind of weather needed for outdoor dining. Politicians and business owners are issuing dire warnings that 1 in 3 restaurants could fail by year’s end.

Todd Stigliano is Director of Business for Cafe Aura, a gleaming restaurant owned by UConn Women’s Basketball coach Geno Auriemma. The cafe has been open less than a year.

Right now, the restaurant is operating with about 75 % of its normal staffing levels. Outdoor dining has been a huge help, but customers haven’t shown the same enthusiasm for indoor dining.

“It’s been pretty clear that they’re not comfortable with that right now, but we don’t know what they’ll be comfortable with come October,” said Stigliano.

“Almost one out of every 10 workers in Connecticut directly or indirectly has a job connected to the restaurant industry,” said Senator Blumenthal.

He and the governor are calling for an expansion of the federal Paycheck Protection Program to help restaurants stay afloat as the pandemic rages on with no discernable end in sight. The program, which expired last week, offered loans to small businesses to help with payroll costs and other expenses.

It also allowed for loans to be forgiven, if businesses refrain from layoffs or pay-cuts.

“It was supposed to be a bridge,” said Lamont. “Remember the president saying, ‘April, everything’s going to be better. May, everything’s going to be better?’ Well now we’re in August and we’re still limited.”

Restaurateurs can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the problem is that the tunnel keeps getting longer. Now, they’re looking towards the end of the year for a full recovery. Stiliango said it all depends on the state staying on track with COVID-19 controls.

“If we move in the right direction, we’re optimistic that by the first of the year we’ll be in a good position,” said Stigliano.

Meanwhile, the governor said he’ll take another look at guidelines for restaurants, including the 50% capacity for indoor dining in the next couple of weeks. He said, for now, bars will not be allowed to reopen, based on what’s going on in the western and southern states now grappling with COVID-19 surges.

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