When the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in March 2020, Stephanie Bonin and her husband, Keith Arnold, co-owners of a Denver restaurant, worried they would face financial disaster.
The pandemic prompted them to close Duo Restaurant, which serves farm-to-table contemporary American cuisine.
There was no playbook as to what would happen next, as federal and state aid addressing the crisis had not yet been implemented.
They temporarily laid off all but three of their 15 employees.
At the time, Bonin knew she and her husband would not get unemployment insurance. While their staff would receive benefits, it would not match their weekly pay checks and tips.
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“Their livelihood was on our shoulders,” Bonin said. “That was what was keeping us up at night.
“How are we going to make sure that they can work?”
Bonin started a Change.org petition calling for $2,000 per month in aid to every American during the pandemic.
Today, that online call to action is still drawing support, having just crossed 3 million signatures. Change.org has put together a video of personal testimonies of people who say they need more federal help.
The milestone comes as a Covid-19 resurgence due to the omicron variant is forcing some small businesses to close and schools to question whether children should attend classes in person. Meanwhile, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are discussing what aid may be implemented — particularly for businesses like restaurants.
Democrats’ Build Back Better proposal has stalled on Capitol Hill. That bill would authorize additional monthly child tax credit payments, though Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., has called for stricter targeting of that aid.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” this weekend that more help for Americans could be added to an upcoming federal funding bill.
However, Bonin said she is already hearing from supporters of the petition who need more aid now.
That includes people who may have to quit their jobs if their children return to virtual learning, grandparents living on fixed incomes who provide for their grandchildren, and people who need the boost to be able to rent apartments.
For many, those issues show no signs of letting up.
“Marathon doesn’t even describe it,” Bonin said. “It’s just life.”
Bonin and Arnold recently shut down the Duo Restaurant for a week around Christmas after half of their kitchen staff contracted Covid-19.
While they lost about $30,000 in income for the week, they still paid about $9,000 towards their payroll due to paid leave mandates.
If they are forced to shut down again, the loss in income will put more financial strain on the business. Meanwhile, because their staff has run through all of their sick leave, there are no further mandates for them to get paid.
Bonin and Arnold, who run the restaurant virtually from Brattleboro, Vermont, are also grappling with additional Covid uncertainties as parents to two daughters, ages 9 and 14.
Aid through the Payroll Protection Program, which they credit with keeping the restaurant in business earlier in the pandemic, is no longer available. Stimulus checks and enhanced federal unemployment benefits dried up last year. This month, the monthly child tax credit payments stopped.
Those uncertainties, and the twists and turns of the pandemic over the last two years, have kept the Change.org petition resonating, Bonin said.
“I think that’s what 3 million people are saying, which is, ‘We just need certainty. We need to have something we can plan on month after month,'” Bonin said.