Charlie Crist: Hotel workers still suffering amid COVID-19 need federal aid

Charlie Crist
The downturn in business travel is hurting low-income hospitality workers.

Hotels are the only segment of the hospitality industry left without direct aid from Congress and Charlie Crist is hoping that will change — as soon as possible.

The outgoing Congressman from St. Petersburg who is running to become Governor hosted hotel officials Tuesday morning to make the case that the COVID-19 pandemic is still affecting those workers who live closest to the edge of desperation. They are housekeepers, front desk clerks, laundry workers, and groundskeepers.

“While many sub sectors of the hospitality industry have received targeted relief from Congress, hotels still have not,” Crist said. “And in a state like Florida, where we rely so heavily on people visiting and staying in our hotels, this has left many of many of my fellow Floridians without a job and unable to provide for their families.”

Estimates are that Florida will end the year with 44,000 fewer hotel jobs than there were in 2019. The problem is that business travel has not returned. The bump in tourism seen over the summer dissipated as school came back into session.

The bill would have hotel owners apply for grants that would cover the hotel payroll for three months. They would be eligible if the hotel can show that its revenues have declined by at least 40% when comparing 2021 to 2019.

“This bill will provide necessary, targeted relief for the hotel industry, so that workers can be rehired,” Crist said, noting that the money would go directly to workers.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii introduced the Senate bill in April. It was read twice and passed on to the Committee on Finance. Crist introduced it in the U.S. House in May and garnered 29 co-sponsors. The bill has been in the House Committee on Financial Services, and the House Committee on Ways and Means since Crist introduced it.

The Congressional Budget Office has not produced an estimate of how much the targeted aid would cost.

Chuck Prather, owner of The Birchwood, an 18-room boutique hotel in downtown St. Petersburg, said while leisure travel has mostly returned, wedding bookings are scaled down and business travel is mostly nil.

“Last night in our hotel we had one guest room occupied … and it just goes to show you right there, there just isn’t the business traveler,” Prater said. “As crippling as that is for small businesses, it’s devastating for staff.”

If there are no rooms that need cleaning, laundry to wash and fold, or guests to check in, workers get sent home, Prather said.

Chip Rogers, president & CEO of American Hotel and Lodging Association, estimated that business travel to Florida in 2021 is down about 60% from where it was at this point in 2019. And that downturn in business travel to Florida means less cash is circulating.

“It means about $5.3 billion in fewer dollars coming into the state’s economy,” he said.

Crist is seeking the Democratic nomination for Governor to win the right to challenge Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the General Election in 2022.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].

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