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Peoria Charter owner sees business rebound with boost from federal aid

211004 Bill Winkler.jpg
Joe Deacon
Peoria Charter Coach president Bill Winkler discusses the bus company's $2 million in Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services Act grant as U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria, looks on during a news conference Monday in Peoria.
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Bill Winkler got a little choked up Monday as he reflected on the federal assistance that kept Peoria Charter Coach afloat when COVID-19 brought the travel industry almost to a complete halt.

“Words can't say how thankful I am,” said Winkler, the company president. “When I had to lay off my employees two times, the last time I laid them off, they cheered me — they cheered me! — and I vowed that I'm going to bring this company back. Without the federal government, I wouldn't have been able to.”

Winkler said Peoria Charter has received 80% of its $2.5 million relief through the Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services Act (CERTS), allowing the 80-year-old bus company to stay in business and rehire its workers.

Now, customers are returning as well.

“September was the first month in 21 months that my business is doing well enough that more money is coming in than going out,” he said. “The vaccination has been a game changer. People got vaccinated, and now they're traveling; there is a travel bug out there and that is not going to go away.”

U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria, said it’s rewarding to see the bipartisan legislation to assist travel businesses already showing success.

“That's what government needs to be there for. When you have a pandemic, when you have a situation like that, government needs to step up,” said LaHood. “This is a case where it worked successfully, and it's great to see all the employees here today.”

Winker said Peoria Charter received two $1.2 million Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, but those funds were exhausted in just three months. He said with business rebounding and the CERTS funding, he’s not worried about running out of money anymore.

“With this $2 million, it's going to help with payroll, health insurance, it's going to help pay for the leasing of my coaches, fuel,” he said. “It has been a godsend.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.