In a letter sent yesterday to the Wisconsin congressional delegation, trade associations representing 30 distillers throughout the state urged Congress to provide additional economic relief to distilleries facing enormous financial hardship due to the impact of COVID-19. The letter was sent from the Wisconsin Distillers Guild and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS). Click here to view the letter
In the letter, leaders with the associations noted that Wisconsin’s distilled spirits industry had been thriving prior to COVID-19, supporting over 39,000 Wisconsin jobs and $3.0 billion in economic activity in 2018.
“As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, many distilleries in Wisconsin have been forced to furlough or lay off employees. Absent additional relief, some distilleries soon may be faced with the tough decision to permanently close their doors (up to 50% of the Wisconsin Distillers Guild membership), thus also impacting their farmer suppliers and others throughout the hospitality and tourism industries,” the industry leaders stated.
They urged Congress to act swiftly to enact further measures that provide liquidity and certainty to distillers who have seen sudden and steep declines in sales with the closure of distillery tasting rooms, restaurants and bars, as well as retail outlets in certain areas and airports.
“The distilled spirits industry is uniquely positioned at the nexus of the hospitality, agriculture, retail, and tourism industries. The livelihoods of farmers, glass bottle makers, truck drivers, warehouse workers, and countless others connected to the hospitality and tourism industry are compromised by the challenges confronting the distilled spirits industry,” they said.
According to a recent survey of craft distillers, by DISCUS and the American Distilling Institute, two-thirds of respondents do not believe they will be able to sustain their businesses for more than 6 months.
The survey, which included feedback from 118 distilleries across 35 states and the District of Columbia, found that approximately 43 percent of distillery employees have been let go or furloughed since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. The average distillery respondent had almost 14 employees before the COVID-19 crisis and has let go nearly 6 employees.
In the letter, the association leaders urged Congress to include five critical components to aid distillers as part of any additional economic relief package including:
· Provide Federal Excise Tax Relief
· Defer Federal Excise Taxes
· Seek the Suspension of Tariffs on Distilled Spirits
· Create an Industry Stabilization Fund
· Continue Robustly Funding No- and Low-Interest Loan Assistance
“We are proud that over 15 small, medium and large distilleries across the state are also doing their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by transitioning to produce hand sanitizer, but they will continue to need the help and support of Congress for months to come,” they added.
The letter was signed by Evan Hughes, Legislative Committee Chair of the Wisconsin Distillers Guild and Co-Founder & CEO of Central Standard Distillery in Milwaukee, and Chris Swonger, President & CEO of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.