Hogsett asks Congress to help in COVID-19 fight with more aid

As he announced tighter COVID-19 restrictions for businesses and schools in Marion County on Thursday morning, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett called on the U.S. Congress to approve another federal pandemic relief package.

The new county health order will reduce capacity in bars and entertainment venues to 25% while keeping restaurants operating at half-capacity indoors. The restrictions come as more frigid temperatures move in, making outdoor dining less appealing to customers.

For much of the year, hospitality and tourism venues in Marion County have had limits placed on how many patrons can visit at once, driving down profits. Several well-known restaurants in the city have already closed, citing the impact of the coronavirus restrictions.

While the city launched a grant program to assist hospitality businesses, the funding is tapped.

The Hospitality Establishment Lifeline Program, or HELP, is providing up to $25,000 each to businesses to cover rent or mortgage payments from April to December. The $11 million in funding for the program was expected to assist at least 440 businesses.

The program opened Oct. 15, and already, more than 600 applications have been received totaling $11.4 million, Thomas Cook, the mayor’s chief of staff, told reporters Thursday.

Grants totaling about half that money have already been approved and our going out the door to assist businesses, he said.

The program is funded with the city’s share of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds, which Congress approved in the spring.

The city received $168 million, all of which has been appropriated to various programs and efforts aimed at helping local government, residents and businesses get through the pandemic.

Hogsett on Thursday said that federal money was “transformative,” but now it’s gone and small businesses and residents are still suffering.

He said as the city announces new restrictions it should also be announcing new business assistance programs, but it can’t because there’s no more funding.

“Unfortunately, we have now gone eight months without congressional action to provide relief to resident, businesses and local governments,” he said. “I want to reiterate my call for those in Washington, D.C., to step up to the plate and do what needs to be done to help with this surge and the destructive effect it is having on our city’s small businesses.”

Congress for months has been considering additional economic stimulus packages but negotiations between Republicans and Democrats have yet to bear fruit.

It’s not the first time Hogsett or his administration have called on Congress to act more swiftly. As the city allocated the last of its CARES Act funding in September, it also called for more assistance.

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