“Why? Why are we in the exact same position?” Stephanie Bonin, co-founder of Duo Restaurant, asks. “What happened a week ago [when indoor dining in Colorado was banned] is what happened in March: We had to close our doors. We’re there all over again. … This is not a surprise. We knew we were headed here. And yet, here we are without anything in terms of a plan for economic relief.”
In March, Bonin started up a petition on change.org, asking that the federal government supply $2,000 monthly stimulus checks to all American adults and $1,000 monthly payments for children for the duration of the pandemic. Her petition gained 1,000,000 signatures in a matter of weeks, and now, almost nine months later, the number is nearing 2,000,000 as many gather to ask the government to do more for its people.
“Stimulus checks are effective and equitable and urgent, and those are three things we desperately need right now,” she explains. “For anyone to have a sense of consistency and ability to plan, that would be a gift.” Bonin believes that the monthly checks would allow Americans to allocate funds for their monthly expenses and would ease some of the constant financial worry that has resulted from the unpredictability of this time.
Further, those extra finances could give businesses and individuals the financial freedom to take responsible health precautions when needed. Bonin reflects on their own decision to close Duo after two employees tested positive for COVID-19. If everyone was receiving that extra money, she reasons, it would make it easier for businesses to say, “’Of course we’re going to close the doors...and do the right thing and not go to work.”
Bonin says her petition for stimulus checks is not in conflict with the $908 billion coronavirus relief proposal that’s currently on the table. She knows that the potential $288 billion in funding for the Paycheck Protection Program and the additional $300 in weekly federal unemployment benefits for eighteen weeks would go a long way. “All of this economic relief we need,” she says. “But I don’t think it’s enough.”
Over the past months, Bonin says she’s heard from many who have signed her petition, and they've shared their own stories of hardship. She’s heard from small-business owners who’ve had to lay off their staff, and others who weren’t able to get PPP loans. Gig workers have reached out, as have micro-businesses to whom $2,000 per month would mean the ability to stay afloat. “Some reach out just out of frustration, saying, ‘What's the point? They’re not listening,’” she continues.
And frustration is equal to Bonin’s sense of exhaustion. “It's so ridiculous that we have to do this all over again. We all feel the fatigue. That is not restaurant-specific. Whether they’re a student, a parent — we’re all just really challenged.” Adapting to COVID-era restrictions demanded the kind of innovation that Bonin believes entrepreneurs and small-business owners often excel at. “When you’re in a creative mood of reimagining and reinventing, that’s exhilarating, and it’s also exhausting,” she says.
“We brought back all of our staff once the governor said that the door could open. That’s definitely a source of pride as an entrepreneur: being able to offer your staff a way to make a living,” she explains. But two weeks ago, they had to lay all their employees off again, and her husband just received his unemployment benefits today. She worries what the future looks like for the millions of unemployed workers. Currently, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program is set to expire on December 26.
“There was way more hope [at the beginning],” Bonin says. “How can you ask someone to sustain hope for eight months? Of course they’re feeling defeated.” She hopes that lawmakers can continue to work on the coronavirus relief proposal that currently has bipartisan support.
"I think that this bill that was just introduced can spark a new hope that this is a new starting point, and we do have a chance of learning from the last eight months and getting help out there, right now, immediately,” she adds.