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State launches aid program for businesses stung by COVID-19

By Brandon Foster

Casper Star-Tribune

Via Wyoming News Exchange

CASPER – Wyoming bars and restaurants that lose business because of the state’s COVID-19 measures will be able to apply for relief through a new state program, the governor’s office announced Tuesday.

Gov. Mark Gordon’s announcement comes a day after the state mandated bars and restaurants close between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. under new health orders.

The state will use federal coronavirus relief money to help businesses that are adversely affected by the change.

“I want to thank everyone for joining together to protect their communities and also to support local businesses,” Gordon said in a statement. “We hope to have final details available this week and to start taking applications for relief funding for business owners who are helping to save lives by reducing their hours.”

The announcement did not specify how much money the state would allocate to the effort.

Wyoming has until Dec. 30 to distribute money from the federal coronavirus relief bill known as the CARES Act, though the state has requested an extension to use the money in 2021.

U.S. Congress continues to debate the possibility of another stimulus, which could make more funds available for the new program.

“I have been working with legislative leaders so we can quickly change state laws if Congress does act and provides new relief to the states,” Gordon said in a statement. “I appreciate their efforts to prepare and be ready to act quickly.”

Gordon’s office, the Wyoming Business Council and the Wyoming Department of Health are collaborating to roll out the relief program, and the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association and the Wyoming State Liquor Association are notifying their members of the program, according to a Tuesday afternoon news release.

The new health order, which comes alongside a statewide face mask mandate, will not apply to takeout during those hours. It takes effect Wednesday and runs through Jan. 8.

Both Gordon and Mike Moser, the executive director of the liquor association, have emphasized the importance of avoiding a scenario in which bars and restaurants have to pivot entirely to takeout — a situation businesses found themselves in this spring.

“What’s important is that this still allows people to go out,” Moser said Monday. “We want to do anything we can to keep businesses from having to close again.”

The governor’s office said that the Wyoming Business Council will announce more details about the program this week, and the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association and the Wyoming State Liquor Association will provide more information to their members once it’s available.

“This relief program is welcome news and an opportunity for the Wyoming hospitality industry to address lost revenues,” Chris Brown, executive director of the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association, said in a statement.

Added Moser: “We appreciate the governor’s efforts to help offset the financial impacts some of our members will experience, and we thank him for working with industry on keeping our businesses and employees whole.”