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Restaurants push for more federal relief amid concerns over omicron variant

Portland bar and restaurant owners that normally enjoy a busy holiday season told KGW business has slowed down in the past month.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland bars and restaurants that normally enjoy a busy holiday season said they've seen business dip in the past month. Some of them told KGW they believe it's because of concerns over the omicron variant

With projections that the omicron variant could lead to the worst surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations yet, many businesses in the service industry are pushing for more federal help. 

Alan Robertson owns Wedgehead off Northeast Halsey and Sandy in Northeast Portland. He agrees that the omicron variant, which federal health officials said has become the dominant variant of COVID-19 in the U.S., is keeping people away. 

RELATED: Gov. Brown extends state of emergency in preparation for omicron wave

"The first thing to go are restaurants and bars," Robertson said. "The first thing everyone does when there is a new variant is cut down on their exposure levels."

Wedgehead is one of thousands of businesses in Oregon's service industry that have been forced to struggle through the pandemic for nearly two years. 

In May, the federal government offered millions of dollars in relief money to restaurants. More than 5,000 Oregon restaurants applied for the relief funds, but fewer than half were approved. 

Robertson said Wedgehead was one of the businesses that didn't get any help.  

"We're struggling in the sense that you can't really weather any more bad months or dips," he said. 

Earlier this month, the Independent Restaurant Coalition sent and open letter to Congress asking for a reinvestment in the restaurant relief fund. For some restaurants, the fund is the only thing keeping them open.  

RELATED: Omicron-fueled COVID wave is on the way for Oregon, Gov. Brown says

The coalition hoped lawmakers would act before they went on their holiday break, but that didn't happen.

"That letter is begging and pleading for attention. We need to save an industry that's not only important to Oregon but is important across the country," said Erika Polmar, executive director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition.

Robertson said the relief money would greatly improve his business's chances of surviving the pandemic. 

"If we were to get that funding, I would give us a nine out of 10 success rate for the future ... Without it I'd give us a three out of 10 chance — 30% chance," he said. 

The restaurant coalition is looking to the start of the new year, when U.S. lawmakers return to work, to see of they can convince Congress to approve the funds.