York County taverns group: COVID relief 'way too little, way too late'

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

Restaurants and other businesses in the hospitality industry, such as hotels or bed and breakfasts, will soon be able to apply for a new round of state COVID-19 relief funding — aid the York County Tavern Association president called "way too little, way too late."

The York County Economic Alliance will administer the COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program, or CHIRP, via the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

York County Commissioner Doug Hoke pointed out that CHIRP funding can be used to make up for lost revenue, whereas the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds had to be used for things like personal protective equipment and social distancing tools.

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"It's more flexible than some of the other funding we've seen," Silas Chamberlain, vice president of economic and community development for YCEA, said about the CHIRP funding.

The Left Bank in York City, Saturday, March 14, 2020. The restaurant and bar announced Friday that it will be closing for 12-24 weeks. Dawn J. Sagert photo

A total of $145 million will be given to county governments to disburse to eligible businesses through their respective economic development organizations, such as the YCEA, Chamberlain said.

Money will be awarded to counties based on population, according to the DCED guidelines, and the individual grants will range from $5,000 to $50,000.

Chamberlain said about 1,000 small businesses in York County will be eligible to apply, and that those businesses have fewer than 300 full-time employees and a maximum net worth of $15 million.

Eligible businesses must also have been established before the pandemic began in February 2020, he said, and they must demonstrate financial hardship as a result of the pandemic.

Chamberlain said the application process will open by March 15.

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Local reaction: Jim DeLisio, president of the York County Tavern Association, said the $145 million from the state is a step in the right direction but that after nearly a whole year under Gov. Tom Wolf's operating restrictions, a single $5,000 grant or a refund on a $1,000 liquor license isn't enough.

"It's way too little, way too late," he said.

Hotels and restaurants have been hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people canceled travel plans and restaurants were ordered to cease or reduce indoor dining to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Vito's Pizza and Beer in Spring Garden Township closed for good in October after 58 years in business, citing the the financial challenges of the government's restrictions.

Jim DeLisio, president of the York County Tavern Association, speaks during a press conference at the recently-closed Vito's Pizza and Beer Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. DeLisio called for easing of restrictions imposed on eateries due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bill Kalina photo

A $5,000 grant, the minimum amount that will be awarded via CHIRP, might help pay the mortgage or keep the lights on for one month, but beyond that, it's not enough for struggling businesses to survive, DeLisio said, adding that the relatively small payments are a "slap in the face" from the state.

A better solution would be to lift or loosen the operating restrictions and allow people to get back to work, he said.

The York County Economic Alliance will have more information about the grant application process in the next couple of weeks, Chamberlain said.