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The Independent Restaurant Alliance of Oregon says the state's Commercial Rent Relief program is a mess.

PMG FILE PHOTO - More restaurant are likely to go out of business.The big questions that popped up when Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced 15 Oregon counties — including Multnomah and Clackamas — will go back into the extreme risk category on Friday have largely gone unanswered.

Which small businesses will be prioritized for help? How soon could they get aid? What will it require of the Legislature? How would they apply? What about the laid-off workers?

Brown's office did tell KOIN 6 News, "The $20 million package will be administered as grants to impacted businesses in extreme risk counties through the Business Oregon Commercial Rent Relief program. The governor's office will continue to work with legislative leadership to advance the package and we'll have additional details in the coming days."

But Katy Connors, one of the leaders of the Independent Restaurant Alliance of Oregon, said that the Commercial Rent Relief program is a mess.

"Yes, rent will help months from now, but we need immediate, no-strings-attached grant money for these businesses right now," Connors said. "Telling them how to use the money they receive because of this closure in rent is not productive."

The alliance said $20 million isn't enough money. There are 5,000 restaurants in Multnomah County alone. Imagine splitting that $20 million among all small businesses throughout Oregon. Connors said most businesses will be lucky to get $1,000 to $2,000.

For perspective, when the pandemic began and McMenanims closed, they sought $20 million alone from private investors.

The shutdown is also killing eateries with no outdoor dining options. They have to close, try to keep their employees, deal with the loss of their food.

"Restaurants run on extremely thin margins and if they finish out the month without having the income that they had hired for or purchased for, it could be a difficult time," Connors said "And I think that we are going to see, you know, layoffs and closure rates also go up."

The IRAO said hundreds of small restaurants have closed in the past years and they believe it will take 3 to 5 years to recover.

Oregon restaurants want cocktails-to-go to become permanent. A more robust economic package for small businesses could help them last through the next six months.

Many in the restaurant industry in the Portland area think higher vaccination rates are going to be what allows them to get back to work. But the alliance said their workers often don't have the means to get to some vaccination sites outside the metro area.

KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune.


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