SPRINGFIELD-NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) — Illinois State Senators want to make sure COVID-19 relief is spread across all industries, and craft brewers are asking to be included, too.
Sen. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) has proposed appropriating $125 million in federal COVID-19 funding for bars and restaurants, as allowed under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
“They really need one more infusion of help; nothing is ever big enough for this industry, but every little bit helps,” Feigenholtz said.
Feigenholtz said the hospitality industry is the largest sector of Illinois employers and it’s important to make sure they have what they need.
“They were hit very hard, not everybody got PPP and those who did, that was two years ago,” Feigenholtz said.
Now, Illinois craft breweries are asking to be named specifically eligible for funding as well.
According to the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, the craft beer industry has been among the hardest hit by COVID-19 closures and mitigations. Only about 20% of breweries received funding under the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) before funds ran out.
Bryan Bullard, owner of White Oak Brewing in Normal said they hope to tap into to some sort of relief this time around.
“A lot of the funding was very specific so it was hard to qualify for some of the things,” Bullard said.
Bullard said additional funds would help mitigate rising costs of goods and shipping amid inflation and other shortages.
“Without any kind of help, that cost would get passed on to the consumer and we try to hold the line as best we can in our competitive market to provide a quality product at a fair price,” Bullard said.
Co-owner of White Oak Brewing, Scott Schahrer said the pandemic made them shift their business model.
“Prior to the pandemic, we were 100% draft business and as soon as the pandemic started, we had to transition into canning,” Schahrer said.
The brewery at first only opened for limited hours and is still working to get back to normal.
“We’re just now getting back to the hours that we had pre-pandemic,” Schahrer said.
Kevin Cary, owner of Begyle Brewing in Ravenswood and former president of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, is among the brewery owners who applied for – but has not yet received – Back to Business grant funding.
“The last three months have been harder than much of 2020, when Chicago breweries were forced to shut down indoor operations multiple times,” said Cary. “When you look around, it feels like COVID has ended, but a lot of breweries are still struggling with less foot traffic, higher costs, and, in many cases, rising debt payments. They need more support.”
Feigenholtz said they’re working on language which would expand the list of applicants to include food trucks, taprooms and breweries.
She said the bill is still in its early stages and the best thing people can do is call their local legislators and tell them to support Senate Bill 4178.