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US Senate rejects second round of federal aid for hospitality industry, leaving thousands of Washington businesses in debt

Restaurants in Clark County left out of federal aid are now looking to the busy summer months to try to pay off their debts.

VANCOUVER, Wash. — A much-needed lifeline has been taken away from restaurants nationwide after the U.S. Senate rejected a second round of federal aid meant to help businesses in the hospitality industry pay off debts from the pandemic. 

“It was definitely very disappointing,” said Michael Ruhland, owner of Valo-Massalto

The boutique winery on Vancouver’s waterfront was just one of nearly 4,000 restaurants affected in Washington. Valo-Massalto has only been open for two years, which meant the business didn't have enough revenue to qualify for any federal grants. 

“We are like many businesses that just fell through the cracks with everything across the board," he said.

The winery did qualify for the second round of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which would have provided $48 billion dollars in emergency money for restaurants and bars affected by the pandemic. 

RELATED: Restaurant owners, lawmakers call for renewed federal COVID relief

Valo-Massalto was expecting to receive about $500,000.

“That would just help with staying stable and growth and being able to build the name, build the brand,” Ruhland said. “I think its unfair from the federal government side of things.”

The average restaurant in Washington incurred about $160,000 of debt during the pandemic, which is more than three times their annual profit, according to the Washington Hospitality Association

“Now that it’s clear there’s no more relief coming from the federal government, they’re going to have to figure out how to deal with this," said association president Anthony Anton. "There’s going to be a lot of hard decisions ahead." 

RELATED: Oregon congressman, restaurants pushing for more COVID relief funding

The association is now urging customers, landlords and suppliers to be patient with the restaurants that are still in debt.

“I think the next several months are going to be the indicator," Anton said. "The good news is the consumer traffic is back outside of the urban areas."

“You keep on pushing and you don’t stop until you get where you need to be,” Ruhland added.

The Senate decision is a blow for restaurants on the other side of the Columbia River as well. The head of a trade group for the hospitality industry in Oregon said local restaurants that didn’t receive the second round of federal aid are now left to compete against those that did, and called the process inequitable and unfair. 

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