Inaugurated as president, Biden faces host of pandemic-related woes

As Joe Biden was sworn in as president of the United States on Wednesday, 20 January, the seafood and foodservice industries urged the incoming administration to provide additional funding for COVID-19 pandemic-related losses.

Today's ceremony, making Biden the nation’s 46th president, capped off the tumultuous months between the November elections and Inauguration Day, marred by former President Donald Trump’s legal opposition to Biden’s election, along with a violent riot at the U.S. Capitol building earlier this month.

As president, Biden faces significant challenges in how he handles the pandemic – including the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination rollout – along with continuing economic hardships affecting millions of businesses and individuals.

In a flurry of public statements issued ahead of the inauguration, seafood, food, and restaurant industry groups said they are looking ahead to work cooperatively with the administration. All called for more financial help so their industries survive the pandemic.

“It is important, as President Biden and bipartisan congressional leaders craft a package, that the beginning, middle, and end of the seafood supply chain be covered,” National Fisheries Institute President John Connelly told SeafoodSource. “Harvesters and processors have spent tens of millions of dollars protecting workers and recovery of those costs are essential. And our customers need help opening up, so people can get back out and enjoy seafood as much out of home as they now do at their own kitchen table.”

The middle of the seafood value chain – primarily distributors – are carrying USD 2.2 billion (USD 1.8 billion) in bad debt caused by the pandemic, NFI Vice President of Communications Gavin Gibbons said. Add to that, seafood operators from water to table have shelled out millions of dollars to protect their workers and keep them working, Gibbons said.

“An essential part of keeping America running is feeding people, and you can’t feed people if you don’t have workers to safely do the job of catching, harvesting, processing, and distributing,” Gibbons said.

Biden’s proposed USD 1.9 trillion (EUR 1.6 trillion) stimulus plan offers financial relief for businesses and the hard-hit restaurant industry.

The so-called American Rescue Plan would provide USD 15 billion (EUR 13 billion) to create a new grant program for small business owners, separate from the existing Paycheck Protection Program.

The proposal also includes a USD 35 billion (EUR 29 billion) investment in some state, local, tribal, and nonprofit financing programs that make low-interest loans and provide venture capital to entrepreneurs, CNN reported.

As the Biden administration and Congress work out the details of an economic stimulus plan, “a continued holistic approach will be vital,” Gibbons said.

Biden also said he wants to work with Congress to ensure that “restaurants, bars, and other businesses that have suffered disproportionately have sufficient support to bridge to the recovery.”

“It is clear President-elect Biden wants to take action to address the unique devastation the pandemic brought to America’s independent restaurant and bar community,” the Independent Restaurant Coalition said in a press release in mid-January. “We are encouraged by President-elect Biden’s repeated and outspoken support for direct aid to independent restaurants and bars, especially as we remain one of the only industries seeing shrinking employment and closed doors across the country.” 

However, the National Restaurant Associaton is concerned about Biden’s proposal to hike the national minimum wage from USD 7.25 (EUR 6.00) per hour to USD 15.00 (EUR 12.00) per hour.

“The support in the [America Rescue Plan] proposal is overshadowed by the possibility that, at a time when restaurants are spending more to keep their doors open, they may also have to balance a dramatic hike in labor costs,” NRA Executive Vice President of Public Affairs Sean Kennedy said in a press release. “As the pandemic has highlighted, the economic realities of each state are very different. A nationwide increase in the minimum wage will create insurmountable costs for many operators in states where restaurant jobs are most needed for recovery. And the elimination of the tipped wage could lead to thousands of skilled hospitality workers seeing cuts in their hourly income.”

Changes in wage policy should be considered by Congress on a separate track from an economic recovery plan, according to Kennedy.

At the same time, Kennedy said his sector appreciates the “targeted support for our industry.”

“We urge the administration to consider greater inclusion of initiatives like the Senate version of the RESTAURANTS Act,” Kennedy said. “Working together, this country can stop the growing number of shuttered restaurants and the millions of workers still without jobs. While we have been supportive of the RESTAURANTS Act it has not be reintroduced as of yet in either the House or the Senate. That being said, we’re supportive of legislation that recognizes needs throughout the seafood value chain and restaurants are certainly an important part of that.”

Photo courtesy of The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies


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