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Local Leaders Say No COVID Dollars Left to Help Workers Through New Shut Down



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It’s unclear exactly when California’s new stay at home order will impact the Central Valley, but it could be just a matter of days.

The trigger? ICU bed capacity across 12 counties that make up the newly designated San Joaquin Valley region. Once available capacity falls below 15%, the stay at home order is initiated.

These services would then have to close completely within 48 hours:

  • Indoor and outdoor playgrounds
  • Indoor recreational facilities
  • Hair salons and barbershops
  • Personal care services
  • Museums, zoos, and aquariums
  • Movie theaters
  • Wineries
  • Bars, breweries, and distilleries
  • Family entertainment centers
  • Cardrooms and satellite wagering
  • Limited services
  • Live audience sports
  • Amusement parks

Sectors that can stay open: Schools that have received a waiver, critical infrastructure, retail stores (at 20% capacity), and restaurants (for take-out and delivery only).

Local restaurant owners started texting leaders Thursday morning before Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement, saying they don’t know how much longer they can survive because they’re already losing money every day.

But city and county leaders say they can’t offer a safety net because their COVID relief dollars from the federal CARES Act have been depleted.

40% (Or More) of Restaurants Will Fail

“They’ve shut us down and they haven’t provided us the money to stay open.”Chuck Van Fleet, owner of Vino Grille & Spirits and president of the Fresno chapter of the California Restaurant Association

“They’ve shut us down and they haven’t provided us the money to stay open,” says Chuck Van Fleet, owner of Vino Grille & Spirits and president of the Fresno chapter of the California Restaurant Association. “All they’re doing right now, they’re offering a little bit of of hope, you know, with some small grant money. But most of it is loans and, you know, deferring taxes for three months and things like that.”

Van Fleet says he’s already spent $5,000 just this month for tents and additional heaters for his outside dining setup. That’s on top of the $1,000 fan and misters he purchased during the warmer months.

He believes that at least 40% of all restaurants will fail, and some estimates are even higher than that. “If you think about your 10 favorite restaurants, four out of 10 of them won’t be here maybe the first of the year,” says Van Fleet.

In addition to just the loss of the restaurants, there will be many people hitting the unemployment ranks with no access to gainful employment in an industry they’re well versed in.

“It’s like, shoot, aim, fire,” says Van Fleet. “I think you’re going to have a lot of restaurants that will fail.”

City of Fresno CARES Act Dollars Already Allocated

Photo of Mike Karbassi

“He (Newsom) said to businesses there’s light at the end of the tunnel. We’re at the end of the tunnel.”Fresno City Council Member Mike Karbassi

“He (Newsom) said to businesses there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Fresno City Councilmember Mike Karbassi said. “We’re at the end of the tunnel.”

Karbassi says the latest move is continuing to kill main street during the busiest shopping time of the year.

“I think there’s a better way to deal with this pandemic responsibly without being short sighted. And he keeps saying there’s data. I’m sorry, he has not convinced me,’ said Karbassi.

KABC-TV reported the city of Los Angeles plans to make $800 one-time payments to out-of-work restaurant employees who have been economically devastated during the coronavirus pandemic. Los Angeles County has closed in-person dining for three weeks as one of many steps to try to contain the spread of COVID-19. The city, in partnership with the nonprofit Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles, is making the $800 stipends available to 4,000 workers.

GV Wire℠ asked Karbassi if the city of Fresno would be able to do anything similar to what LA is doing.

“In the middle of a recession, we barely balance our budget,” responded Karbassi. “We have basically run out of the CARES money. So there’s really no money to provide that.”

Karbassi says he appreciates what Los Angeles is doing, but the money won’t go very far for workers trying to make ends meet in a place known for its very high cost of living.

He adds, “What we could use is pandemic unemployment insurance for the self-employed and the gig workers and the folks that are working those jobs.” Karbassi is hopeful the new Biden administration will push to get some sort of economic stimulus package pushed through and into the hands of the people that really need help right now.

Fresno County Relief Actions

portrait of Nathan Magsig

“I can tell you that there will be no CARES act dollars left by the end of the year.”Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig

Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig said the Board of Supervisors has a couple items at their December 15th meeting that will help, at least a little bit.

One is to give around two and a half million dollars to Community hospital to assist not only with the surge, but also with the costs they’ve incurred because of because of COVID-19,” said Magsig. “And then also we’re taking a look at kind of a business relief package. So this would be for small businesses that pay fees to the county health department.”

Magsig says that because many of these businesses have had their incomes drastically reduced due to the pandemic, he’s hoping the board will vote to forgive the fees they pay towards the county health department. For small businesses those health inspection fees could be anywhere from a few hundred to few thousand dollars.

As for any CARES Act money being available to help employees affected by the latest stay at home order, it’s almost all gone.

“I can tell you that there will be no CARES act dollars left by the end of the year,” said Magsig.

“I am not aware of any data that I’ve seen which specifically can be pointed to the restaurant industry as the cause of this fight,” says Magsig. “A lot of businesses are very frustrated that are being told to shut down when they’re when they’re following CDC guidelines.”

State Lawmakers React

“There is no question that California’s COVID-19 cases are surging,” said state Sen. Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno). “However, if the governor is going to shut down sectors of the economy, then California’s projected surplus must be used to keep businesses afloat and people working. Nobody likes this situation we are in, but California leaders need to step up and protect public health and the economy.”

“Governor Newsom continues to disrupt life as we know it without releasing the full data behind his decisions or showing the impact his actions are having on our lives. With all the changing guidelines over the last 9 months, evidence-based decision-making has to become the standard and not this hodgepodge approach advanced by the governor,” said Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) in a news release Thursday.

During his Thursday news conference, Newsom reviewed a number of financial support programs the state is making available to businesses, including grants, low interest loans, sales zero-interest tax deferrals, and tax credit programs. The Legislature is also exploring possible fee waivers for bars, restaurants, personal care services and others that have been significantly impacted by the pandemic, Newsom said.