Virus Throws Millions More Out of Work, and Washington Struggles to Keep Pace

The pandemic could cost the United States a quarter of its restaurants, said Cameron Mitchell, who owns and runs a chain of 21 restaurants in Ohio and has more across the country. He has furloughed all but six of the company’s 4,000 workers. “I’m not asking for a handout,” Mr. Mitchell said, but “we need some additional help, or else America’s not going to have a restaurant industry to come back to.”

His chain, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, had applied for a $10 million loan through Huntington National Bank but was awaiting confirmation from the Small Business Administration in Washington.

Policymakers have tried to head off the economic devastation that businesses like Mr. Mitchell’s are now experiencing, but it has proved complicated. Congress and President Trump have already approved nearly $3 trillion in economic rescue packages aimed at countering the effects of the virus, including aid to companies that explicitly tries to keep workers tied to their jobs. The Federal Reserve has also created a flurry of new programs to keep the financial system from seizing up, including one effort announced Thursday that seeks to help nearly 19,000 businesses that have not otherwise obtained federal assistance.

But the federal government is not equipped to quickly establish or manage complex funding programs, and by the time policymakers began those efforts, it was already too late for some businesses.

Some companies have chosen to lay off workers, viewing that as a better option for them than keeping them on part time or paying just a fraction of their salaries. An expansion of unemployment benefits added $600 per week to the amount received by every laid-off American for the next four months, giving some companies an incentive to direct their workers to federal assistance.

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