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State Under Growing Pressure To Use Remaining CARES Act Funds On Hard-Hit Businesses

SANDY, Utah – Utah still has millions of CARES Act funds remaining, and there is growing pressure to put some of that money toward businesses and industries hit hardest by the pandemic as 2020 comes to a close.

The Salt Lake Chamber sent a letter to Governor Gary Herbert and other state leaders at the beginning of the month, asking the state “to disburse remaining CARES Act funds through a short term, emergency grant program for businesses in industries that have been most impacted and are least likely to survive without assistance.”

“We are really really grateful that we’re still able to open,” said Daniel Yuswadi, owner of MakanMakan in Sandy.

When your serving Asian street food, there’s no shortage of good options to fill you up. But since the start of the pandemic, filling up their restaurant has been a constant struggle for Yuswadi and his wife, Mercy.

“As you see, Friday night, we only have two tables [filled],” he said. “This table is closed. This table is closed. Table is closed.”

“Pretty much we just depend on what we have here,” he said.

Limited capacity indoors and the fresh but frigid air on the patio heading into the winter months don’t leave Yuswadi with many options.

“We have 50% capacity on the dining, but we don’t get 50% off rent. It’s still the same rent,” he said.

MakanMakan is one of many businesses in the hospitality industry that could benefit from the millions of unspent CARES Act dollars in the state.

“These are those industries that were hit first,” said Derek Miller, president of the Salt Lake Chamber. “They were hit the hardest. And unfortunately, they’re experiencing the longest decline.”

Last week, Miller sent a letter to state leaders “On behalf of the Salt Lake Chamber, Downtown Alliance and the Utah Chamber Policy Coalition,” regarding the leftover federal funds.

Miller asked them to use part of that leftover money to help struggling businesses.

“We’ve encouraged them on behalf of the business community to spend that money where it can be used the best. Where it’s needed the most,” Miller said. “And that’s to help those businesses that have been hardest hit — that aren’t experiencing a recovery.”

One of the options being discussed is using some money to offer enclosed spaces for restaurants to set up on their patios for customers.

“That would be great. That would be great,” Yuswadi said, looking outside at his own arranged but empty patio. The extra space indoors and outdoors is still unsettling for Yuswadi.

“We hope everything comes back like it used to be,” he said.

And he said he’s very optimistic we are headed in that direction and that it will only be a matter of time before things fill up again.

“We do not complain. We’re just grateful for everything we have. We just make the most out of it,” he said.

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