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Chefs, restaurants set menu for next economic rescue bill

Restaurateurs ask congressional leaders to use the next rescue bill to make fixes

A ““takeout only” sign is taped on a restaurant window with the reflection of an apartment building in the background on H Street Northeast in Washington on April 3, 2020.
A ““takeout only” sign is taped on a restaurant window with the reflection of an apartment building in the background on H Street Northeast in Washington on April 3, 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The $2.3 trillion economic rescue package enacted by Congress provides an inadequate lifeline for independent restaurants, ranging from celebrity chef-driven culinary destinations to lesser-known family-run eating establishments, leaders of a new food industry coalition said Monday.

Restaurateurs Tom Colicchio of New York, Kwame Onwuachi of Washington, D.C., and Naomi Pomeroy of Portland, Oregon, said the package’s forgivable loans for small businesses end too soon and won’t help them reopen for business once COVID-19 restrictions on sit-down dining are lifted.

“This is our generation’s World War II. We need to get our arms around it and work together,” Colicchio said.

[Hawk ’n’ Dove shuts down operations amid backlash]

In a conference call, the three award-winning chefs said that before COVID-19 struck, the independent restaurant industry employed 11 million people in the U.S. and supported thousands of suppliers such as wine and food vendors.

The chefs said the Independent Restaurant Association is calling for more targeted aid to smaller restaurants that addresses the realities of running labor-intensive businesses with small profit margins. The association was formed in March as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate and House leaders negotiated the wide-ranging legislation designed to aid industries reeling from public health guidelines that have restricted gatherings, closed businesses and kept millions of people at home.

Pomeroy said most association members had already closed and laid off staff by the time Congress passed the legislation.

“CARES is a small step on a giant staircase,” Onwuachi said, referring to the law by its acronym, which stands for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

The association laid out other steps that members deem necessary to help restaurants rebound in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

The letter calls for:

  • Extending the maximum loan amounts available to smaller restaurants under the Paycheck Protection Program to three months after the businesses are allowed to reopen and operate at full capacity.
  • Creating a revenue stabilization fund of $50 billion to $100 billion to help independent restaurants pay vendors, cover reopening costs and rehire workers.
  • Providing a tax rebate to restaurants based on how many people they hire and a rent rebate to provide landlords with revenue until restaurant tenants recover financially.
  • Requiring insurance companies that provide coverage for business interruptions to recognize COVID-19 public health closures as a payable event.
  • Extending the two-year repayment period to 10 years for businesses that do not qualify for loan forgiveness under the Paycheck Protection Program.
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