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SBA Administrator visits Hampton Roads to praise economic relief programs

Restaurant owners said they were saved by the Paycheck Protection Program and Restaurant Revitalization Fund, while elected leaders talked about next steps.

NORFOLK, Va. — Some Hampton Roads restaurant owners said their businesses were saved by initiatives like the Paycheck Protection Program in a meeting about economic relief efforts with federal leaders Tuesday.

Isabel Guzman, Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, praised the PPP and the Restaurant Revitalization Fund at the meeting.

“With the relief, businesses were able to adapt to the workforce changes that were taking place and either pay their employees more, or work hard to retain them in the first place," Guzman said.

At Torch Bistro in Norfolk’s Chelsea District, co-owner Chris Johnson said the restaurant might’ve shut its doors for good without loans from the PPP.

“If we didn’t have PPP we probably would have closed or had to rethink some serious things," Johnson said.

RELATED: 'If this one business fails, that's it,' Norfolk restaurant owner desperate for COVID aid as Congress approves relief package

Johnson said he used the funds to pay his staff during shutdowns. Now, he said he’s using the leftover money to try and hire more workers.

“We’re going to use them to help start paying the staff more with the minimum wage increase, to be a little more competitive out there," he said. 

Talking with elected officials like Rep. Bobby Scott (D-3rd District) and Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander, Guzman said it's been "heartening" to see an "all-government approach" to helping small businesses.

“We know that in a long term basis, the SBA will need to be there to help businesses recover fully," Guzman said, talking about loan and debt forgiveness.

Rep. Elaine Luria (D-2nd District) advocated for more money for the SBA programs.

“Our job in Congress – we need to put more funds into the restaurant revitalization act," Luria said. "Businesses like [Torch Bistro] are going to depend on that to go to the next level and get back up to normal operation.”

Guzman said the SBA was efficient and swift in getting out relief, but it needs to be controlling and strict on punishing fraud as well.

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