By Jenny Berg
When people ask Donella Westphal how her downtown St. Cloud restaurant survived the past year, she tells them "a little duct tape, some paper clips and a lot of love."
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jules' Bistro has received two rounds of Paycheck Protection Program loans and two rounds of relief funding through Stearns County.
"We exist today in spite of a worldwide pandemic because of these vital programs," Westphal said Wednesday at a news conference with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Stearns County Commissioner Tarryl Clark and St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis.
"Restaurants have especially been hard-hit and I believe it's crucial that we keep these businesses open," Klobuchar said. "We've lost over 60,000 restaurant and tourism jobs and we want to get every one of them back."
Those 60,000 jobs represent a 31% drop in jobs at restaurants and bars statewide from January 2020 to January 2021. The state gained about 11,000 restaurant and bar jobs from January to February, but jobs are still down 25% overall year-over-year.
Klobuchar visited the St. Cloud municipal complex near Lake George on Wednesday to promote the $1.9 trillion relief package, which includes $28.6 billion for the restaurant industry above and beyond the PPP program. President Joe Biden signed the relief package into law in mid-March.
"This major package that we just passed I think goes a long way in giving [small-business owners] that confidence that we're going to be able to get to that light at the end of the tunnel," Klobuchar said.
The city of St. Cloud is anticipating receiving about $15.7 million from the latest federal relief bill.
Kleis said the relief funding, in addition to vaccine progress, is helping the community move toward a new normal.
"I don't like to use the word 'normal' because it won't be normal ever again, but it'll be better," he said. "We're looking forward to brighter days and I'm confident we are going to have them."
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