Michigan Gov. Whitmer Announces State Assistance for Bars and Restaurants as State Commission Continues to Suspend Liquor Licenses

MICHIGAN – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday announced programs aimed at assisting the state’s restaurants and bars as well as families facing evictions.

The announcement came as the governor is facing mounting criticism over her administration’s penalizing businesses alleged to have violated epidemic orders imposed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Among the governor’s initiatives to support restaurants and small businesses are a reboot of the liquor buyback program instituted previously this year. The Michigan Liquor Control Commission’s previous buyback effort put an average $5,000 back in the pockets of restaurant and bar owners. All told, the MLCC spent $3.4 million on buying back spirits from 673 establishments.

Those establishments were ordered closed by MDHHS in mid-November, and the initial order was extended past its original Dec. 20 deadline to Jan. 15, 2021. Several Michigan businesses have garnered headlines after the Michigan Liquor Control Commission suspended licenses of bars and restaurants for violating the MDHHS orders.

“We are thankful for these programs because any kind of assistance helps our struggling industry,” said Scott Ellis, executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, said in a statement.

In a phone conversation with The Center Square, Ellis elaborated that his organization’s ultimate goal is to open businesses.

“We’re thankful it’s something,” he said. “And something is better than nothing. But, at the end of the day, our members need to open in order to survive.”

Michael Reitz is executive vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “The spirits buyback program is small consolation for owners who fear shutting down a restaurant for good,” he told The Center Square in an email.

The MCPP reported  on Tuesday that two undercover MLCC investigators had suspended the liquor license of a Macomb County establishment for serving cocktails to six unmasked patrons.

ABC 12 reported the MLCC has suspended the licenses of 26 businesses alleged to have violated the MDHHS epidemic orders since September.

“The best thing the governor can do for local restaurants is to allow them to operate using the safety protocols in place before the state shut down restaurant dining,” Reitz said.

Reitz noted a recent New York Times article that pointed out that “capacity limits in restaurants can effectively reduce infections without the devastating consequences that Gov. Whitmer’s shutdown is creating.”

Additionally, Whitmer announced the state will partner with restaurants to allow U.S. Department of Agriculture-administered Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for prepared meals. The Restaurant Meal Program will allow restaurants to accept SNAP benefits to purchase restaurant meals.

She also announced she was allotting another $2 million to the state’s Eviction Diversion Program.

“These actions will ensure that families have the support they need to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads this winter, as well as provide support to local restaurants and small business owners all over the state that are struggling as a result of the pandemic,” Whitmer said in a statement.

The governor made the announcement one day after the U.S. Congress passed a nearly $900 billion COVID-19 relief package and the Michigan House greenlit another $465 million in relief for state businesses.

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