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Greg Dugal is the director of government affairs at Hospitality Maine.
Six months ago, a city in New Jersey began a policy that steadily crept across the country: closing restaurant dining rooms and hotel rooms to combat COVID-19.
While the immediate prognosis for the hospitality industry is not great, there is one positive sign that I have seen throughout the government response and recovery process. That is the bipartisan cooperation and legislative leadership of Sen. Susan Collins and the rest of the Maine delegation. We need this leadership now more than ever.
According to a recent nationwide analysis by the National Restaurant Association and its partners like Hospitality Maine, some 100,000 restaurants have closed — about one in six nationwide; alarmingly more than 4 million team members remain out of work. Restaurants lost over $165 billion from just March through July and are on track to lose more than $240 billion by year end. Sixty percent of operators report routine costs are higher than a year ago while staffing is only about seventy percent of what it was. Across the industry, four in 10 owners say it is unlikely they can operate for another six months without additional government assistance.
Taking a closer look at these numbers, and our state, it is not hard to see how serious the impact will be to our economy if the industry does not weather the COVID-19 crisis. Despite our relatively modest population, Maine is home to more than 3,200 restaurant locations that employ some 64,000 people — one in 10 workers in the state. Annual sales top $2.5 billion, and table service restaurants contribute nearly $1.80 to the state economy for every $1 in revenue while limited service establishments contribute approximately $1.50 for every $1. Restaurants are more than just community cornerstones and familiar places sharing hospitality and nourishment, they are a key economic driver in Maine.
When COVID-19 reached our country, and crisis level economic fallout ensued, policymakers across our government struggled to quickly find solutions. For those of us who have known Collins for years, it was little surprise that it was she who they turned to, for developing solutions. Collins went to work, as the lead author of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provided a critical lifeline to businesses and employees in Maine and across the nation.
In the process, she worked tirelessly with members from both sides of the aisle, to secure overwhelming support for the PPP and to quickly usher it into law. Never before in history has so much government aid been provided to such a wide array of businesses in such a short amount of time.
PPP was not perfect, but it was timely and effective, and when hiccups and hurdles arose, Collins and Sen. Angus King worked to further refine the program, promptly extending funding and broadening relief efforts.
The COVID-19 crisis has lasted longer, and been more disruptive and widespread than anticipated. As another peak season quickly comes to an end, it’s clear that we have not yet recovered; tough times and more work remains.
When times are tough, it’s leading and doing that matters, far more than headlines and sound bites. For our industry, Collins helped create and sustain critical programs that have been a lifeline for businesses and employees and for that we thank her.