Georgia hotelier welcomes deal on stimulus CARES Act

Concern for the financial well being of employees he had to lay off has been ‘on top of his mind’

Ritesh Patel, left, president of RAM Hotels in Columbus, Georgia, and his brother, Executive Vice President Mitesh Patel. Ritesh said the Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security Act, if passed, will help hotel employees laid off because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

AS CONGRESS PREPARES to vote on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security, or CARES Act, hoteliers are breathing a little easier. Ritesh Patel, president of RAM Hotels in Columbus, Georgia, said hoteliers needed the stimulus package to be passed.

“Something that doesn’t sit right with me is that we had to let go 440 associates, and these are the people who need the paycheck the most,” he said. “The concern of them earning the continuity of their cash flow is on top of my mind. This is going to directly, first and foremost, take care of that.”

Legislators were in negotiation late into Tuesday night over the bill, which Democrats had blocked saying it did not do enough for workers. Around 1 a.m. they finally reached a deal.

“I will leave it to others to compare the bipartisan Sunday bill to the final version we will pass today and determine whether the last few changes really required or merited these three days of delay, in the face of this worsening crisis,” U.S. Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said when announcing the compromise.  “But that Washington drama does not matter anymore. The Senate is going to stand together, act together, and pass this historic relief package. Struggling Americans are going to go to their mailboxes and find four-figure checks to help with their bills… because the Senate stepped up.”
Key elements of the plan include sending checks of around $1,200 for single middle and lower class Americans and more for married couples to encourage consumer confidence, according to NPR. It also expands unemployment insurance to completely cover the salaries of most workers who lose their job.

Of prime interest to hotel owners is the $350 billion for loans to small businesses hit by the pandemic. Provisions installed by Democrats are meant to increase oversight and require that stimulus money be used to save jobs, not pay stock buybacks.

Still, there is a need for more relief, said Cecil Staton, president and CEO of AAHOA, in a statement.

“While this legislation is a step in the right direction, America’s hotel owners are committed to working with the Trump administration and congressional leadership to ensure that the next phases of economic stimulus fully and meaningfully address the liquidity crisis facing small business owners across the country,” Staton said.

Patel said it’s still too early to be sure how much the bill will actually help, since it had not yet been  voted into law as of Wednesday. But he was optimistic about what he was hearing.

“If there’s something in there for cash compensation for the continuation of the payroll, then it allows us to retain our staff so we don’t lose our staff to other industries, such as Walmart and Amazon,” he said.

Companies also will be able to provide online training to further ease the return of employees when they can be brought back.

“The last thing you want to do is lose this talent,” Patel said. “They’re our people and we have to get them back as quickly as we can.”

He also likes the forgiveness of debt in the CARES Act.

“Arguably, you’ve got to have that. You must have that,” he said. “We’re all in some sort of mortgage or debt component associated with our hotels and we want to make sure that that is taken care of.”

The CARES Act provides extra comfort for the possibility that the pandemic will go on even longer, Patel said.

“It’s going to keep us steady, it’s going to keep us rolling, and it’s going to give us the momentum so when all the various parts of the economy, such as travel, starts firing back up again, we don’t have any lag time,” he said. “I think it’s very positive.”