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Some restaurants report trouble hiring as coronavirus restrictions are removed

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

Columbia will likely be without coronavirus health orders soon, theoretically returning the restaurant business to something similar to what it was before the pandemic.

However, some restaurant owners and industry advocates say businesses are having trouble finding workers.

Columbia Mayor Brian Treece said Monday that the city's coronavirus health order will expire May 12 and will not be replaced unless current positive trends change.

The order requires people to wear masks where social distancing is not possible and in restaurants when they're not seated. The order also requires social distancing inside businesses.

With these fewer restrictions and readily available vaccines, more business is expected for restaurants in the downtown area.

Tellers manager Tera Eckerle said the restaurant's biggest problem has not been limited business, but trying to find staff.

Columbia Chamber of Commerce President Matt McCormick said with graduation events starting restaurants have already seen an increase in traffic and have struggled with workforce and staffing. The University of Missouri held ceremonies recently for 2020 graduates who didn't get events last year. Commencement events for 2021 graduates are set for this weekend.

McCormick said there were more jobs than people before the pandemic. COVID-19 has only highlighted the problem.

Owner of On the Rocks, Matt McGee, said they have had a hiring sign up for a couple months, but they've seen very few applications. He said they have also had many people schedule interviews and not show. "It seems that people aren't out there seeking part time jobs," said McGee.

"The plus side of the unemployment is that it did truly help a lot of people through the pandemic but the challenge on the backside of that is now getting that workforce back into the workforce," McCormick said.

The Columbia area had an unemployment rate of 3% in March. That rate was 2.6% in March 2020. More than 16,000 Boone County workers have claimed COVID-19-related unemployment benefits since the pandemic started.

McCormick said as pandemic unemployment benefits start to diminish people will begin to look for jobs. He said people have also moved on to other jobs so it is important for companies to recruit well.

"There's not a lot of incentive to go back to a part time job that pays less than what you're making on unemployment. As long as they keep those benefits running than that may be an issue," said McGee.

Federal relief just opened for restaurants that are struggling because of the pandemic.

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund will provide restaurants with funding equal to their pandemic-related revenue loss up to $10 million per business and no more than $5 million per physical location. 

The program opened Monday. The relief does not have to be repaid provided that the funds are put toward eligible uses by March 11, 2023.

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Chanel Porter

Chanel joined ABC 17 News in January 2021 after graduating from Penn State University. She enjoys traveling and a daily iced coffee.

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