RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Amid the sudden economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, some business owners in North Carolina are calling on state lawmakers to convene a session in Raleigh immediately to help provide some relief.
“The North Carolina legislature needs to immediately call session and issue bridge loans for small businesses under 500 employees. We’re dying out here, and we need help,” said Zack Medford, president of Isaac Hunter’s Hospitality, which manages four bars in downtown Raleigh.
Medford said the only business he’s doing right now is delivery once a week from Paddy O’Beers on Fayetteville Street.
With a dramatic drop in cash flow, he and many other business owners are grappling with how to pay bills that are coming due at the start of the month while keeping the businesses afloat.
“When the government orders 75 percent of the economy to be put into a medically induced coma, you’ve got to provide some kind of life support. Right now, we’re just looking everywhere we can to try to find that life support, to keep us going,” he said.
A legislative committee tasked with coming up with a plan to address the economic impacts of the pandemic met Tuesday morning.
Lynn Minges, president and CEO of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, told lawmakers they need to take immediate action. She said the bill Congress passed last week will provide some help, but it could take weeks for that to get to businesses.
“We need to get cash in the pockets of these business owners immediately,” she said.
The NCRLA said before the pandemic began, restaurants in North Carolina employed almost 500,000 people. The association estimates about 70 percent, or 350,000 of those people, are out of work as the state has ordered restaurants suspend dine-in service and offer only carry out and delivery.
In the hotel industry, Minges said her association estimates about 23,000 people out of 80,000 employed are out of work.
The NCRLA called on lawmakers to approve a $100 million emergency grant program for the hospitality industry and to defer tax payments for four months without penalties or interest.
She said lawmakers need to go into session to approve those changes.
Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) said it’s still not clear if the General Assembly will reconvene sooner than April 28, when the legislators were already scheduled to return to Raleigh.
“Our world just changed almost overnight. But, I think getting to a place where we can act is what we’re trying to move quickly toward. But, it may not be as immediate as people want or feel like that they need,” he said.
Saine said he supports deferring tax payments and waiving interest and penalties on those late payments.
The House has convened various working groups that are operating remotely to determine how to address issues such as the economy, continuity of government, education and health care.
“Even after seeing the federal legislation on Friday, a lot of that implementation takes a couple of days for a state to even get ramped up to be able to accept and distribute. So, I don’t know that I have that answer, not that anyone necessarily has that answer immediately,” he said.
Medford has set up fundraisers to help employees pay bills.
“We’re trying to figure out how to help them, how to take care of them, as well as keep our businesses alive,” he said.
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