A growing number of businesses and business organizations are opposing Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's recent statewide "freeze" to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The latest is the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, the leading business association for the foodservice and lodging industry in state. It sent a letter to the Oregon Legislature's Joint Emergency Board on Tuesday asking for the immediate creation of a $75 million Hospitality Relief Fund to help operators and their employees survive another shutdown.
"There is no federal relief package waiting to be voted on and distributed from Congress or the White House," Jason Brandt, the association's president & CEO, said when announcing the letter on Nov. 17. "There are no stimulus checks being printed to help Oregon families pay their bills. There is no weekly check for $600 available for those servers, cooks, hosts and hostesses about to lose their jobs or have their hours cut again because restaurants can't survive on takeout and delivery if they can do it at all."
A few hours later, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced the state will commit $55 million in financial assistance to support Oregon businesses who have been impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. According to Brown, the funds will be distributed to businesses which have been financially impacted, with a priority for the hospitality industry, businesses impacted by the freeze, small businesses, and women, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and Tribal-owned businesses.
Before that, the Independent Restaurant Alliance of Oregon, which sent Brown a letter on Sunday, Nov.15, saying that requiring restaurants and bars to only serve to-go food will lead to thousands of permanent closures.
"Restaurants and bars cannot survive with to-go operations only. A survey of independently owned restaurants indicates that the loss of indoor dining results is a revenue loss on average of 81.75% thus forcing closures and mass layoffs," said the letter from the nonprofit organization, which was signed by 300 restaurant owners. "Additionally, our businesses don't operate like hardware stores — we can't just flip a switch and walk away. Each time we close we lose perishable inventory and we have to maintain payroll to properly shut down the business."
That letter was sent two days after Brown announced the new restrictions on Friday, Nov. 13. They will be effective statewide for at least two weeks starting Wednesday, Nov. 18, and four weeks in Multnomah County and possibly Washington County.
Anticipating the announcement, the 38-member Coronavirus Recovery Business Coalition sent Brown a letter saying such restrictions would hurt workers without guaranteeing any public health benefits.
"We implore you, Governor, if you are considering additional restrictions or actual closures, please take a pause. Let us work with you to develop a better plan. Arbitrarily closing businesses and reacting to this crisis without a plan that addresses the root of the problem will certainly harm Oregonians across our state without ensuring any real results," said the letter.
Individual business owners are also speaking out against the restriction. They include Jim Bernau, founder and CEO of Willamette Valley Vineyards.
"We support efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus and local businesses who implement the proper safety measures when hosting guests on-site," Bernau said. "The 'one size fits all' regulatory approach will hurt small business employees who are exceeding all safety measures."
Brown's restrictions include:
• Limiting restaurants and bars to take-out only.
• Limiting social get-togethers (indoors and outdoors) to no more than six people, total, from no more than two households.
• Limiting faith-based organizations to a maximum of 25 people indoors or 50 people outdoors.
• Closing gyms and fitness organizations.
• Closing indoor recreational facilities, museums, indoor entertainment activities and indoor pools and sports courts.
• Closing outdoor recreational facilities, zoos, gardens, aquariums, outdoor entertainment activities and outdoor pools.
• Limiting grocery stores and pharmacies to a maximum of 75% capacity and encouraging curbside pickup.
• Limiting retail stores and retail malls (indoor and outdoor) to a maximum of 75% capacity and encouraging curbside pickup.
• Closing venues that host or facilitate indoor or outdoor events.
• Requiring all businesses to mandate work-from-home to the greatest extent possible and closing offices to the public.
• Prohibiting indoor visiting in long-term care facilities.
The freeze does not affect current protocols for personal services like barbershops, hair salons or non-medical massage therapy. It also does not change protocol for homeless sheltering, outdoor recreation and sports, youth programs, childcare, K-12 schools, K-12 sports currently allowed, current Division 1 and professional athletics exemptions and higher education. All will continue to follow previous guidelines from the Oregon Health Authority.
Brown said the measures are enforceable by law.
The Independent Restaurant Alliance of Oregon to Brown can be read here.
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