Sent COVID relief to hit businesses hardest by lockdowns

Almost two years after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer closed large swaths of the state’s economy to slow the spread of COVID-19, many businesses in industries shuttered or greatly restricted for months remain in dire need of help.

A relief plan passed recently by the Michigan House would go a long way in helping struggling businesses access nearly $185 million in federal pandemic funds. That’s the best use of those COVID-related funds.

The proposed legislation, now before the state Senate, would offer American Rescue Plan dollars to businesses forced to close during government ordered lockdowns and only allowed to reopen with limited restrictions such as curfews, drastically reduced capacity and social distancing requirements.

“Places like restaurants, fitness centers, theaters are unique in that in order for them to operate, they require people to come in,” says Rep. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee. “The idea would be those that are still operating would get back to normal.”

Unfortunately, many businesses didn’t make it. Fitness centers, for instance, were hit by both the lockdowns and subsequent capacity restrictions. The House’s plan would allocate a $53 million hardship grant to gyms and similar enterprises.

Roughly a third of fitness centers have closed in the state since they were shut down for nearly six months at the onset of the pandemic in 2020.

More:Editorial: Michigan still releasing from Whitmer’s lockdowns

Other industries also need relief. Restaurants, which faced capacity limits, dine-in bans and curfews, would also get some assistance under the current plan.

The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association last year estimated around 3,000 eateries closed during the pandemic. The state should do everything it can to help those that made it get back to profitability, which will protect jobs and help neighborhoods.

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