Restaurants, lawmakers look toward reopening dine-in, COVID-19 recovery plan

NILES, Mich. -- Michigan restaurants are gearing up to reopen dine-in after nearly three months and also hoping to soon get some long overdue financial relief from the state.

State legislators and Gov. Whitmer are going back and forth on a COVID-19 recovery plan to help these businesses after spending most of the past year under some sort of shutdown.

House republicans announced a $3.5 billion proposal Wednesday, countering Whitmer’s $5.6 billion dollar plan announced last week.

State Rep. Brad Paquette said the drop in cost is due to cuts in some areas of financial relief that don’t directly pertain to COVID-19, but that won’t impact small business owners who have been hurt the most.

“We’re going to be a deposit into the UIA fund and employers pay into that and we’ll reimburse them there, but also property taxes are a big chunk of the money – about $300 million – the other thing I’ve been hearing is that they’ve been having to continue paying liquor license fees but haven’t been able to use them, so we’ll have funds in there – about $22 million to reimburse them,” said Paquette.

Even if the republican bill triumphs, Paquette said it still may not be enough to save some restaurants if they can only operate at 25 percent capacity.

“Our only asset or chip at the poker game is to use the budget and we’re not just going to write blank checks to the Governor and not have a say to some of these COVID-19 lockdowns,” said Paquette.

And without much financial relief available during this last shutdown, restaurants had been coming up with creative ways to boost their revenues, like Wegner’s Lakeside Bar & Grill, where they brought in shanties for outdoor dining.

“Right before the holiday some locals here gave us a nice donation and that allowed us to have three shanties and after the holiday we had some more donations and bought the other four,” said owner Rachel Wegner.

But also questioning why it took almost a year for a recovery plan from the state.

“The fact that it’s a year later is disappointing, at the same time if there’s help out there there’s help out there and we’re all going to welcome that,” said Wegner.

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