Seafood groups praise passage of COVID-19 relief package

U.S. seafood organizations are praising Congress’s passage of its Omnibus/COVID-19 relief package. The bill has been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and has been sent to President Donald Trump for his signature.

The USD 900 billion (EUR 740 billion) stimulus package includes USD 300 million (EUR 247 million) in additional fisheries assistance and the inclusion of seafood as an eligible use for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food purchases, along with additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

Notably, the legislation allows forgivable loan funds to be used for covered business expenses that include accounts receivable debt, the National Fisheries Institute said in a press release.

“NFI has consistently urged Congress to address this issue by classifying accounts receivable debt as a forgivable expense under the Paycheck Protection Program. We are pleased that this new package includes a provision that does just that,” NFI President John Connelly said. “This is a win for the seafood community that will provide badly needed relief to restaurants and the seafood processors and distributors that supply them.”

The seafood industry has been saddled with approximately USD 2.2 billion in outstanding debt since the beginning of the pandemic, Connelly said.

“The vast majority of that debt is held by small businesses that have struggled to survive,” he said.

Seafood Harvesters of America Executive Director Leigh Habegger also lauded the agreement.

“The provisions in this relief package have been long-awaited by the commercial fishing and seafood industry. The additional fisheries assistance funds allocated will help our fishing businesses ensure they can weather the continued market disruptions in the seafood sector,” Habegger said in a release. “We are also pleased to see seafood explicitly called out as an eligible use for authorized USDA food purchases. We have long advocated for this and we hope to provide Americans with many sustainable, nutritious seafood options through USDA food programs.”

The new bill also enhances PPP loan size. The PPP provides a business with a forgivable loan based on 2.5 times its monthly payroll costs. Restaurants, however, can seek forgivable loans based on 3.5 times monthly payroll costs, according to the National Restaurant Association. And in a change from the first iteration of the CARES Act, companies that employ a total of 300 or more employees at all locations (combined) are deemed ineligible for the PPP.

“Today’s bipartisan plan reflects the reality that many mid-sized and larger restaurant groups are on the verge of bankruptcy and allows restaurants to qualify for PPP as long as they do not employ more than 300 employees at each physical location,” the NRA said in a press release.

NRA President and CEO Tom Bené said the stimulus bill was a good start at helping businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The action taken by Congress today will keep tens of thousands of restaurants from closing in the coming months,” Bené said. “A second round of PPP, combined with unique enhancements for the restaurant sector, will provide critical access to capital.”

However, the long-term economic challenges facing independent, franchise, and chain restaurants “will not end with the new year, and we will continue to press federal and state leaders for the support that will put us on the road to recovery,” Bené said.

The Independent Restaurant Coalition said in a press release that the package “falls woefully short of giving 11 million independent restaurant workers the job security they need before the holidays.”

"Congress understands that dining restrictions, a surging pandemic, and winter weather are a perfect storm for a restaurant employment crisis that is disproportionately impacting single mothers, people of color, immigrants, the formerly incarcerated, and young people. When we've been asked by the government to change the way we do business, our elected officials need to help us stay in business,” the organization said.

However, the PPP changes “will buy time for Congress to negotiate a more robust plan, and we are grateful to many champions in the House and Senate who fought for those changes,” IRC said.

“But make no mistake: independent restaurants and bars will continue to close without additional relief this winter, leaving millions more out of work,” it said.

The IRC Is urging Congress’s passage of the RESTAURANTS Act, which was passed the House of Representatives in October.

"We did our part, and it's time Congress does theirs. Congress must return in January with a renewed commitment to the thousands of people working in independent restaurants in their communities who will lose their jobs in 2021 without swift action on the RESTAURANTS Act,” IRC said.

Photo courtesy of Handkerchief/Shutterstock


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