Whitmer allows SNAP benefits for restaurant food and other small business help

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan bars and restaurants beleaguered by months of forced shutdowns during the coronavirus pandemic are getting new help from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration.

Whitmer announced a slate of new policies Tuesday aimed at helping bars and restaurants weather significantly reduced business during the pandemic. They include a new provision allowing SNAP benefits to be spent on restaurant food and a second liquor buyback program.

“As we head into another Michigan winter, I’ll continue to do everything I can to support our families and small businesses,” Whitmer said. “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.”

The restaurant meal program allows Michiganders who receive food assistance the opportunity to spend it on restaurant meals. About 180,000 senior citizens, 134,000 people with disabilities and 1,200 homeless people will be allowed to spend their monthly benefits at bars and restaurants.

Bars and restaurants have to register with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to accept SNAP benefits. The purchasing process for eligible restaurants will be similar to how SNAP recipients purchase groceries.

The Michigan Liquor Control Commission also is launching a second round of its buyback program to offer additional support for bars and taverns. They can receive thousands of dollars in loans from the state using their liquor supply as collateral.

The liquor control commission bought back nearly $3.4 million worth of spirts from 673 Michigan bars last spring, providing about $5,000 on average to each establishment.

The buyback program allows bars to sell their liquor back to the state. However, they keep all of the liquor in house and pay back the Michigan Liquor Control Commission when they are allowed to resume serving patrons.

“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. “Our number one goal is to get businesses open, which is why we urge Michiganders to do everything they can to end this pandemic.”

Whitmer also is partnering with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to continue the Eviction Diversion Program with an additional $2 million. The program offers renters a chance to remain in their homes by providing payment arrangements with landlords for past due rent.

The eviction diversion program already has helped 16,000 people stay in their homes. Whitmer hopes to offer more help for Michigan residents with funding from the new $900 billion federal COVID-19 relief bill, which passed Congress on Monday.

These programs are in addition to Michigan’s $100 million COVID-19 aid package, which passed the Legislature last week. It includes a $55 million grant program for bars and restaurants, a $3.5 million grant program for live entertainment venues and $45 million in direct payments for workers affected by the pandemic.

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