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As pause continues, restaurants are given a lifeline — or ‘Band-Aid.’

A multi-million-dollar economic program announced earlier this month will provide immediate, quick relief for some members of Oakland County’s restaurant industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Oakland Together Restaurant Rescue Program will distribute $10 million in grant money to 1,000 restaurants and bars. The money can be used for operations, including payroll costs; weatherization and equipment for outdoor dining; and personal protective equipment and supplies to reopen safely inside. The program’s funding includes $7 million from the federal CARES Act allocation to Oakland County in the spring and $3 million from the county’s general fund.

Restaurants and bars came under greater scrutiny after a fall surge in COVID cases. Michigan Department of Health and Human Services restrictions were issued Nov. 15 to slow the spread of infection. They include imitations on indoor gatherings, including dining, and only outside dining, carryout and delivery service are permitted.

Restaurants eligible for the program submitted applications under one of Oakland County’s previously sponsored COVID-19 grant programs. These businesses will receive checks in the mail; they won’t have to formally apply for the new money. Funds must be spent by Dec. 30 on expenses incurred since March 1.

Three members of the local restaurant community shared views about the Oakland Together Restaurant Rescue Program.

Heirloom Hospitality Group has one Oakland County property — Townhouse Birmingham. President Jeremy Sasson figures each entity will receive $7,000, based on the forecasted number of participants.

“I’m grateful and thankful for any funds because we need help to survive,” Sasson said. “It’s an amazing gesture, but it’s only a Band-Aid, or like getting one blood transfusion. The subsidy might be enough to cover, maybe, one night of business. It doesn’t solve our problems when it comes to operating costs. We’ll use the money to pay bills and our employees.”

Estimating 15,000 local businesses benefited from federal grants distributed in May and June under the CARES Act, Sasson said: “The second wave of support, if it comes, should keep some restaurants in business.”

Bill Roberts, proprietor of Roberts Restaurant Group headquartered in Beverly Hills, said, “It is terrific that (County Executive) Dave Coulter and Oakland County are doing whatever they can to save our industry.” His five restaurants are located in Oakland County.

“All restaurateurs are struggling with negative cash flow since we have had no indoor dining for three weeks and counting,” he said. “We were very fortunate to have received grant money in the fall from the county. Any monies that we receive now will help us with our payroll costs and will be greatly appreciated.”

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