Todd Buteaux was co-owner of six restaurants when the shutdowns were ordered in an attempt to slow down the coronavirus in Louisiana.

Now he’s down to two. And those may close soon, too.

Buteaux, co-owner of Poke Geaux, Chopsticks and Izumi Ramen, could get a significant boost from the federal government if the $2 trillion stimulus package earns Senate and House approval.

A significant part of the bill includes a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay at home. It also includes $500 billion for loans for larger industries and relief for airlines and hospitals.

Buteaux’s company, like other small businesses in Acadiana, could use the assistance.

“I don't know all the details of the bill, but if it's what they say, we'll definitely be looking into it and applying because I think that it will help us be able to bounce back from this when we can reopen,” he said. “Izumi's going to be featured on (the reality show) "Man Vs. Food" on April 21, and even though I don't think we're going to be reopened by then, I want us to reopen and be able to have a watch party and really celebrate with all our loyal customers."

The measure is the largest economic relief bill in history, and both parties' leaders were desperate for quick passage of a bill aimed at a virus that is costing lives and jobs by the hour.

The package is intended as a weekslong or monthslong patch for an economy spiraling into recession or worse and a nation facing a grim toll from an infection that's killed nearly 20,000 people worldwide.

Underscoring the effort's sheer magnitude, the bill finances a response with a price tag that equals half the size of the entire $4 trillion annual federal budget.

Among the bills highlights are:

  • Loans and guarantees to businesses, state and local governments: $500 billion. Includes up to $50 billion for passenger airlines, $8 billion for cargo carriers, $17 billion for “businesses critical to maintaining national security." Companies accepting loans may not repurchase outstanding stock; must maintain their employment levels as of March 13, 2020 “to the extent practicable"; and bar raises for two years to executives earning over $425,000 annually.
  • Small businesses: Includes $350 billion. For companies with 500 employees or fewer, loans that may be forgiven if company retains workers; $17 billion to help small businesses repay existing loans; $10 billion for grants up to $10,000 for small businesses to pay operating costs.

Loans and grants would provide immediate help, but the question is how soon can small businesses get those loans, said Gregg Gothreaux, president and CEO of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority. His agency is collected nearly 1,000 surveys among business owners of how the recent weeks have affected their businesses.

"Any stimulus package that has support for small businesses would be very, very welcome,” said Gregg Gothreaux, president and CEO of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority. “We have dozens and dozens — if not hundreds — that are either closing or are extremely nervous. They can hang on for a small period of time, but I don’t think they can hang on for months.

“I think the issue is below 50 employees, it’s almost impossible to survive paying employees with no income coming in unless you can get the loans tomorrow. The next question is how soon can the loans be available.”

Loans or grants would help the local hotel industry survive. Recent cancellations of conventions and other events so far since the shutdown has resulted in $38.3 million in lost revenue.

Hotels have furloughed most of their employees.

“That’s something that would be more amendable to our hoteliers,” said Ben Berthelot, CEO of Lafayette Travel. “I haven't read the bill in full detail, we're all just trying to sort through it but we're making calls with industry partners and our business partners to try to get a better feel for what the stimulus looks like. I think in general the concept of the loans being able to be forgiven is critical because they're not in a position to take on any further debt."

At Mon Rêve Salon in downtown Lafayette, owner Nicole David said it struck her on Wednesday when she had to cancel all of her autopays for bill due to how tight things had gotten. She had to start looking for loans “just to get by and keep myself and everything else going.”

“It’s been really rough,” she said. “I think (the stimulus) should be absolutely something that should be available to us."

Acadiana Business Today: Oil and gas is 'done' for 2020, energy economist says; gas as low as $1.29 per gallon in Louisiana; Stimulus bill could 'help us be able to bounce back' from coronavirus, Acadiana business owners say


Email Adam Daigle at adaigle@theadvocate.com.