US restaurants seeking USD 120 billion relief fund

Seafood suppliers in the U.S could benefit if Congress approves a USD 120 billion (EUR 111 billion) stabilization fund, proposed on 29 April by the Independent Restaurant Coalition.

During a Zoom “town hall” meeting, thousands of independent restaurant owners and prominent chefs, including José Andrés and Andrew Zimmern, urged Congress to create the stabilization fund for the 500,000 independent restaurants across the U.S.

“The restaurants we love are hurting and are on the brink of extinction,” said Andrés, who is part of ICR’s leadership team and founder of World Central Kitchen – which has served more than three million meals to vulnerable communities and frontline healthcare workers.

“Our industry has faced the steepest job losses of any industry during the COVID-19 crisis, but have received no direct aid from Congress,” Andrés added.

Restaurants support millions of employees as well as farmers, fishermen, and other vendors, Andrés said.

“Behind every dish is a story of a fishermen who doesn’t know who he is going to sell his clams to," he said.

Independent restaurants directly employ 11 million people, and indirectly contribute to the employment of tens of millions more through the supply chain of farmers, produce distributors, linen services, beer and wine distributors, and more, ICR said.

The industry faces months – if not years – of uncertainty and significantly lower sales, projected to drop 50 percent for at least the next 12 to 18 months as a result of COVID-19 safety measures, ICR said.

Many smaller, independent restaurants have not been able to obtain funding through the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program, and it is “just a bandaid” that does not help restaurants survive through the remainder of the year, Naomi Pomeroy – owner of Beast in Portland, Oregon, and founding member of the ICR – said during the meeting.

“Even with the Paycheck Protection Program, I have serious doubts I’ll be able to reopen my business,” Pomeroy said in the release. “In order to pay my suppliers – if they’re still in business – and pay for the necessary safety changes to reopen, and rebuild a business model that works at half-capacity, I’ll need a jump start.”

In a recent survey, nearly 80 percent of independent restaurant owners said that government stimulus assistance provided in the CARES Act will not prevent them from permanently closing their doors.

In a letter to Congress, the ICR detailed plans for a stabilization fund designed to “ensure small restaurants are able to access the resources [they] need to survive.” 

The proposed stabilization fund includes:

  • The U.S. government should provide grants – not loans – to independent restaurants throughout 2020. “Grant amounts should be based on the impact to each business and allow operators to use funds broadly to offset operating expenses and payroll. Government regulations will require restaurants to modify dining rooms to reduce seating, slashing revenue. There will also be new costs for protective equipment and cleaning measures,” ICR said.
  • No publicly-traded restaurant should be allowed to access the fund, as they have access to capital that privately-owned restaurants do not. 
  • No large restaurant chain or franchise should be allowed to access the fund, ICR said. Any group of restaurants with more than 20 restaurants under the same name should be blocked from accessing the funds
  • Bars and wine bars should be allowed to participate. “These types of establishments are similarly affected by current and ongoing restrictions on operations,” ICR said.
  • The fund should prioritize marginalized communities, “because they are at the greatest risk,” ICR said.

Despite the bleak restaurant outlook, some restaurants – and seafood suppliers – are benefitting from programs that provide meals to frontline healthcare workers, seniors, and vulnerable populations.

Andres’ World Central Kitchen, which operates in 155 cities in more than 25 states and territories, is now serving nearly 200,000 meals daily from restaurants to frontline workers and vulnerable communities.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has initiated a program called “Restaurants Deliver: Home Meals for Seniors,” which will utilizes local eateries to prepare free food for seniors in need.

“I am very happy that Governor Newsroom announced the state will be hiring restaurants to taking care of elderly populations all across California. I believe this is the beginning of more to come,” Andrés said.

Photo courtesy of World Central Kitchen


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