Lawmakers vote Thursday to give Illinois restaurants and breweries COVID-19 relief

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CHICAGO — As the Illinois legislature nears its end on Friday, lawmakers will finalize the budget. More than $100 million has been set aside for restaurants and breweries still trying to recover from the pandemic.

Begyle Brewing owner Kevin Cary has been in business for a decade, but COVID-19 has had a significant financial impact on his Ravenswood tap room.

“We’ve been stretching in every possible direction at this point,” Cary said. “As you look to the next few years, we have to pay off this debt that we had against COVID and also the COVID debt.”

Over the past two years, 11,000 restaurants and bars in Illinois have closed. Those who survived struggled.

“I think the federal government failed to pass a bill that contained a significant amount of money,” said State Sen. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago).

Feigenholtz introduced a bill in February that would earmark $125 million in federal COVID funds for restaurants and bars — including brewpubs and tap rooms. Only about 20% of breweries that have applied for revitalization funds from previous restaurants have received this grant.

“We’re one of those companies that qualified for a big grant and we didn’t make the cut before we ran out of funds,” Cary said.

He had to reduce the size of his brewery from two floors to one. Cary said it could take five years before he comes back afloat.

“Anything we can do, we hope will come through whatever we can do to help them stay open,” Feigenholtz said. “Before the summer, before this pandemic is behind us, we are going to really work hard.”

The vote is scheduled for Thursday and also applies to food trucks, catering businesses and bakeries.

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