COVID-19 relief for DuPage restaurants comes with new strings attached
DuPage County is providing another round of COVID-19 relief funds for restaurants and bars trying to stay afloat during the COVID-19 crisis, but businesses had to clear a new eligibility requirement.
This time, as a condition for receiving grants, restaurants must abide by the governor's executive orders shutting down indoor dining in an effort to slow a surge of COVID-19 infections and hospital admissions.
DuPage board member Mary Ozog proposed the amendment to the $2.5 million grant program as the county saw a 30% increase in COVID-19 cases in three weeks.
"The science that identifies unique risks associated with bars and restaurants is well established," she said, reading a statement from the county health department executive director. "This proposal would be another tool to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities at a time when we need it."
The grant portal closed Thursday after being open for just 27 hours, highlighting the need for emergency assistance. The county is distributing the grants in up to $15,000 increments.
Officials assigned oversight of the grant application process to Choose DuPage, an economic development alliance that is checking restaurants and bars for compliance by reviewing their websites and social media. But leaders of the organization say they lack the manpower to add another layer of vetting.
"It would really take no more than maybe 10 minutes per restaurant to just go on their website and see if they're accepting indoor reservations, if they're open for indoor dining, if it's a gray area, maybe make a quick phone call," said Greg Bedalov, Choose DuPage president and CEO.
The organization received 326 applications, 19 of which were duplicates. Another 19 were from restaurants that had already received a grant, while 12 entities were not restaurants, making them ineligible for the new round of relief.
That means Choose DuPage is reviewing 276 applications.
County board member Jim Zay expressed concern with setting different rules for different allocations of CARES Act funds. He said restaurants are facing a no-win situation.
"They're not doing this just to thumb their nose at the governor," Zay said of restaurants that defy the orders. "They're doing it to stay in business and try to keep revenue coming in for them and not only for them, but for their employees."
But Ozog said she called for a similar measure in late October, and it failed. She said it's unfair for restaurants that are following the orders to be given the same consideration for the money as those that aren't.
"I think we're sending the right message. And it's the only fair message. Many, many restaurants are in compliance," Ozog said, pointing to Shannon's Irish Pub, a Glen Ellyn fixture that announced this week it's closing temporarily until the dining restrictions are lifted.
Board members this week agreed to have restaurant owners indicate on their grant application that they're following the state's COVID-19 restrictions.
A new tier of restrictions coming Friday for the entire state require bars and restaurants to be closed between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
To qualify for the funds, restaurants and bars also must generate no more than $4 million in annual revenue and derive more than 50% of their revenue from the sale of food or liquor.