Inslee announces new COVID relief for businesses, but many say more help is needed

VIDEO: Many small businesses say more help is needed despite relief package

KING COUNTY, Wash. — People are back to only eating or drinking outside at restaurants. Any sort of indoor gathering involving food is banned until Dec. 14.

“We’re just hanging on by our fingernails to try to survive,” said John Bagge, who owns Twelve Baskets Catering with his wife, Jamie.

The new relief package Gov. Jay Inslee announced Friday afternoon frees up another $70 million in grants and $30 million in loans for small businesses.

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“Yes we’ll have to apply, we’ll have to apply for whatever grant we can,” Bagge said.

He said the catering industry might be hit even worse than restaurants.

“It’s been sort of a roller coaster ride on a really huge level for the whole industry - letdown after letdown,” Bagge said.

Twelve Baskets Catering has pivoted, and now even caters for household dinners – including Thanksgiving meals. (The minimum order is for six people.)

But to get through the slow winter season, Bagge said he’s hoping Congress will stop fighting and approve a relief package.

“It’s very frustrating for me to see Congress. They’re going home for Thanksgiving and they’re basically just leaving us in the dust. And they’re not giving us any ray of hope there’s going to be anything done before January or February,” Bagge said.

For a perspective on the toll to restaurants, the Washington Hospitality Association said before the latest shutdown, they estimated more than one in three restaurants in the state would close this year. That’s about 5,600 restaurants.

“We know this just exacerbates that estimate,” said Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association. The association has been asking Inslee to dial back the restrictions to allow indoor dining, with tables contained to members of the same household.

“How do we get relief to the industry so the damage is lessened and we can save as many as we can. We won’t be able to safe all of them - a lot of dreams are ending. But we still have others we can save by working together,” Anton said.

Inslee has previously said the policy of keeping tables to only members of the same household has been difficult to enforce.

He added on Friday that no matter how you look at it, studies show eating inside at a restaurant is a high-risk activity.

“Some folks have recognized it’s a small percentage of the cases we’ve confirmed of the total transmissions taking place in restaurants, but the reason for that is we don’t track that info from diner to diner. We track it from employee to employee. And it’s simply impossible to evaluate what percentage is coming from that,” Inslee said.

But Inslee added he knows how much it’s costing to save lives.

“Those ramifications are very distressing to me. When a restaurant owner might be on the edge of survival and have these difficult decisions - listen, it’s a weight I carry - rightfully so,” Inslee said.

The governor said that’s why they’re extending as much help as possible. They’re working on securing more grant money. But for now, the new relief package also sets a cap for third-party food delivery companies, like Postmates, DoorDash, or Uber Eats.

The Washington Hospitality Association said on average, third-party delivery companies charge the restaurant 30% of your bill. Now that’s limited to 18%.

“This is a positive step in the right direction. And this is a good move,” Anton said.

The portal on the Washington State Department of Commerce website where businesses can apply for the new loans and grants will launch next week.