Restaurants and Bars Should See Some Assistance From the Congressional COVID-19 Relief Package

Oregon’s brewers, distillers and winemakers also get a permanent tax break.

After a seven-month stalemate, congressional Republicans and Democrats appear to have reached an agreement on a COVID-19 relief package—which includes funds directed at bars and restaurants.

The $900 billion bill would provide another round of direct payments to most Americans, though the amount is significantly less this time around: $600 for individuals making up to $75,000 a year and $1,200 for couples who earn up to $150,000 annually, plus $300 per week in supplemental federal unemployment insurance for those out of work.

For months, Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer has been pushing Congress to pass the Restaurants Act, which he originally introduced to help those small businesses in ways the Paycheck Protection Program fell short.

Senate Republicans ended up blocking the inclusion of a revitalization fund for independent restaurants in the latest relief bill. But Blumenauer, a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, did manage to secure several changes to the PPP, which should improve the plan for the food and drink establishments that have been walloped by pandemic restrictions.

Related: Portland's Restaurants Were Hanging on by a Thread. What Will They Do in a Holiday Freeze?

Changes include larger loans for restaurants as well as expansions to forgivable expenses, like supplier costs, perishable goods, personal protective equipment, and outdoor seating. The legislation also offers restaurant and bar owners a simplified forgiveness process for smaller loans. While this should help keep some of these businesses afloat a while longer, Blumenauer says more needs to be done.

"Make no mistake, modest changes to PPP will help, but they won't remedy enough deficiencies in the program to meet the desperate needs facing local restaurants," he said in a statement. "These half-a-million restaurants, diners, coffee shops and bars employ 11 million Americans and are the cornerstone of communities large and small."

There is also a bit of good news for Oregon's beverage industry: Brewers, winemakers and distillers are set to get a significant tax break.

The federal excise tax rate for those small, independent operators was set to expire Dec. 31, which the Oregon Brewers Guild says could have increased the fee by as much as 100%.

But the relief package's inclusion of the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, introduced by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, will make the excise tax relief that has been in place since 2017 permanent.