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Hotels Look To Congress Amid Job Losses Due To Pandemic

breakers interior design
The Florida Channel
The Breakers Palm Beach advised it was extending a temporary layoff of 642 workers beyond six months.

Nearly 40 percent of hotel workers in Florida have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic, and industry lobbyists warn that could reach 70 percent this winter without further assistance from Congress.

State and national hotel industry representatives said in a conference call Tuesday that a second round of federal assistance is needed, even if it’s just freeing up unused money from what are known as the Paycheck Protection Program and the Main Street Lending Program.

Lisa Lombardo, chief people and culture officer for Ocala-based HDG Hotels, said money hotels received through the Paycheck Protection Program to keep workers employed for two months has run out and they are “banking on” additional relief, as the state’s vital tourism industry could take three to five years to recover.

“We played by the original rules and deadlines,” Lombardo said in a call with hotel lobbyists from Florida, Illinois, California and the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

“So, we brought our people back. And they were champs,” Lombardo continued. “When we didn't have breakfast to serve, because we didn't have guests and we didn't have laundry to do, they would pick up that pressure washer or a paintbrush because they just wanted to be back to work. So, well done with the Payroll Protection plan, right. But now what? Those funds are gone, as of the end of June actually, and our (full-time employment) is on a decline. As small business owners we are the fiduciaries of people's livelihoods, and bringing them back cannot have been temporary.”

Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, estimated about $150 billion remains untapped from the Paycheck Protection Program because of restrictions on its use. The Paycheck Protection Program was included in the CARES Act federal stimulus package approved in the spring by Congress.

Rogers added that most of the $454 billion expected to be leveraged into $4 trillion in loans through the Federal Reserve’s Main Street Lending Program has gone untouched.

“Perhaps the last and almost most difficult one to handle is that our elected officials in Congress, if you went today and ask them what was the most important thing happening in their life today, many would probably say, if they were honest, that it is either a political debate that's happening later tonight or their own re-election,” Rogers said, referring to Tuesday night’s debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden. “And I'm not sure we can express our frustration enough. But our elected officials who are defined as public servants, care more about, or in many cases seem to care more about, going home to protect their own jobs, than they care about the very jobs of the people they're supposed to represent.”

Numbers provided by the American Hotel & Lodging Association indicate Florida has lost 76,746 hotel jobs due to the pandemic, and another 64,257 are threatened over the next six months.

Florida’s unemployment rate stood at 7.4 percent in August, reflecting an estimated 753,000 Floridians out of work.

Leisure and hospitality jobs are down 249,400 from a year ago, according to the state Department of Economic Opportunity.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, at a news conference Tuesday at BayCare’s Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, expressed confidence that restaurants have been able to bring staff back through economic reopening efforts. Those efforts peaked Friday when he lifted state business restrictions, such as a 50 percent indoor occupancy limit at restaurants.

“You're already seeing more people be hired back, I think, as a result of having this pathway for them to operate,” DeSantis said, adding that use of unlimited outdoor seating allowed since May should also increase as the weather cools.

As part of his order on Friday, DeSantis prohibited local governments from closing restaurants and collecting fines from people who don’t wear face masks in public.

The hotel industry’s warning Tuesday came as U.S. House Democrats on Monday pitched a $2.2 trillion coronavirus-relief proposal aimed at getting Republicans back into discussions to land a bipartisan deal.

“This evening, Democrats are unveiling an updated Heroes Act that serves as our proffer to Republicans to come to negotiations to address the health and economic catastrophe in our country,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote Monday to House members.

The Democratic package would revive $600 in weekly payments to people who are unemployed, provide a second $1,200 stimulus check for most Americans and provide $25 billion for passenger airlines and $120 billion for the restaurant industry.

The proposal is down from a $3.4 trillion package the House put out in May.

The national hotel association estimates the industry accounted for 201,433 jobs in Florida before the pandemic hit the state in March.

The association also estimated that 2,587 of 3,861 hotels in Florida face foreclosures without federal assistance and that nearly 200,000 more jobs in Florida supporting the hotel industry could be threatened without added federal assistance.

Notifications by businesses to the state Department of Economic Opportunity indicate more than 7,500 layoffs or extended furloughs are lined up by hotels and the food-service industry through the end of the year.

Last Friday, Sheraton Vistana Resort, Sheraton Vistana Villages and Marriott Resorts, all in Orlando, updated layoff notifications to the state.

Sheraton anticipates 295 employees exiting the Vistana Resort and another 130 at the Vistana Villages between Nov. 13 and Nov. 27, while Marriott projects 223 layoffs starting Nov. 13.

“The vast reach of the coronavirus outbreak, as well as the declaration of a national emergency, and various government directives for individuals to avoid congregating, limit travel, and limit occupancy was unforeseeable and caused, and will continue to cause, among other things, a drastic impact on our business,” Sally Garcia, Vistana Management vice president of human resources, wrote to the state, Orlando and Orange County on behalf of all three companies.

Prior to the warning from Vistana Management, The Breakers Palm Beach advised it was extending a temporary layoff of 642 workers beyond six months, while Omni Orlando Resort Hotel at ChampionsGate announced 541 furloughs also continuing for at least six more months.

Jim Turner is a reporter for the News Service of Florida.