RALEIGH — Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) held a roundtable at the Angus Barn in Raleigh to discuss the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, with concerned restaurant owners.
Angus Barn owners Van Eure and Steve Thanhauser hosted the roundtable, which included Lynn Minges, President of the NC Restaurant Association, Amber Moustakas of LM Restaurants and Lance Trenary, the CEO of Golden Corral.
Tillis said he wants Congress to come back early to address more relief for businesses that have been affected by COVID-19.
“We’ve heard a lot of stories where it (PPP) saved a lot of jobs, saved a lot of businesses and we’re working hard to get it back before the Senate to increase the funding for it and eliminate the politics for a program that, across the board, has gotten rave reviews,” said Tillis.
Tillis said some type of new PPP funding to give businesses the additional help they need is a top priority.
Relief in the form of additional unemployment benefits at $400 a week was also discussed. The previous $600 week benefits ended July 25. Congressional Democrats wanted to reinstate the $600 payments, but Republicans made the argument that amount discouraged people from looking for or accepting work.
Earlier this month on Aug. 10, President Donald Trump bypassed Congress by authorizing new benefits of $400 a week, including a state match. North Carolina’s application was approved for the $300 federal portion according to a letter submitted by NC Division of Employment Security secretary Pryor Gibson.
“It’s really been frustrating because the restaurant industry has been at the tip of the spear,” said Trenary. He cited over 8 million people in the restaurant industry being laid off and that only half of them are back.
Tillis responded that there are two groups that still need more help, one is the “donut hole” which are industries that weren’t eligible for the PPP program or the Mainstream Lending Act. The other group is what Tillis said are the “first in, last out” businesses, which include the restaurant industry, as well as travel and tourism businesses like hotels, motor coaches and airlines.
Trenary said that while PPP had been a lifeline for many businesses, many of them were still in the same situation they were in May due to the drawn-out nature of COVID-19 restrictions.
“As a company, we’re 55% down in our sales,” said Trenary. He went on to say that he has 249 restaurants out of 492 open and restaurants in three states that won’t allow openings at all.
“It’s devastating. We’re a 47-year company that is on the brink of extinction,” Trenary said. He added that, as an industry, restaurants have strict regulations and protocols and they need to be able to reopen. Trenary said they need both a short and long term fix.
Tillis said he was pushing to get congress to come back early and dive into PPP and reopening issues, as well as unemployment, education and daycare. He also criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for wanting to “bailout” states.
“I think Pelosi owes people an explanation of why the consensus part of the negation shouldn’t go forward,” said Tillis. “I completely disagree with Nancy Pelosi that we should give a trillion dollars to bail out the states that have financial problems before COVID ever existed.”
Tillis continued, “It’s a trillion dollars to states like New York – Chuck Schumer’s home – and California, Nancy Pelosi’s home. They’ve been in fiscal trouble for years… they’re trying to hold it (COVID relief) up.”
The lack of detailed data and contact tracing information in North Carolina was a point of criticism during the roundtable meeting. Minges pointed out that other states like Michigan and Maryland seemed to have better data and said, “we’re not seeing that in North Carolina.”
It was mentioned that employees are subjected to regular and thorough screenings and don’t seem to be contracting the virus in the workplace, but rather from extracurricular activities outside of work.
“We are not really hearing about spread from restaurants,” said Minges. She later added that
“I’ve not heard of a single case of somebody got it (COVID) from dining in a restaurant.”
In addressing the press after the roundtable, North State Journal asked Tillis about plans to help those who have already lost their business. Tillis said we’ll need to rely on education, community colleges and universities that have already seen funding through the CARES Act.
Tillis was also asked about the difference between him and his opponent, Cal Cunningham, on taxes.
“Cal Cunningham made a no-tax pledge and broke it at the height of a recession,” said Tillis. “Thom Tillis made a cut tax pledge and fulfilled it at the height of the recession