Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, speaking Sunday at a struggling Lower East Side eatery, promised to keep pushing for a large helping of federal relief for the troubled restaurant industry as part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill.
“Our restaurants are in trouble,” he said. “Thousands more will close if we don’t get them aid.”
Senator Schumer said he had introduced legislation in the Senate last week marking $25 billion in restaurant relief for inclusion in the next COVID relief package, and said he expects the House to adopt the proposal in the coming week. He said the restaurant bill was the first piece of legislation he has introduced as Majority Leader.
The funds would provide grants of up to $10 million for restaurant groups with fewer than 20 locations, and up to $5 million dollars for individual restaurants. Under the legislation, the grants would be administered by the Small Business Administration and could be used for various expenses, including payroll, rent, and supplies. A portion of the funds would be reserved specifically for small restaurants with less than $500,000 in revenue. The legislation also calls for fund administrators to prioritize women and veteran-owned restaurants and socially or economically disadvantaged businesses during the first 21 days of the program.
Schumer noted the particularly important role restaurants play in New York City’s economy and highlighted the urgent need to provide relief. “Restaurants are a lifeblood of New York City. They employ so many people,” he said. “They’re one of the reasons people come to New York and stay in New York.”
Amanda Cohen, owner of Dirt Candy, the venue for Sunday’s announcement, said she is down from 35 employees to only six as a result of the pandemic, according to media reports. She said that her restaurant will likely not survive without the grant measures proposed by Senator Schumer.
Schumer was joined by Andrew Rigie, Executive Director of the Hospitality Alliance, who has continued to note the dire impact the pandemic has had on New York City’s restaurants and bars. In recent survey of 403 restaurants and bars throughout the city, the Alliance found that 92 percent of respondents fell short on rent in December, with 45.2 percent paying no rent at all. The number of delinquencies has continued to rise throughout the pandemic, up from 80 percent who could not pay full rent in June.
“The restaurant industry is vital to the economic foundation and social fabric of New York City, and it has been decimated by COVID-19,” Rigie said. He added that the pandemic has resulted in more than 140,000 lost jobs in New York City’s hospitality industry.
On February 12, New York City’s bars and restaurants were permitted to reopen indoor dining with up to 25 percent capacity, after months of being allowed to offer only outdoor dining due to rising COVID case counts. The allowable indoor capacity is slated to increase to 35 percent later this month.
Still, the City’s restaurants may face a long road to recovery. According to Open Table data, reservations at New York City restaurants remained close to 78 percent below last year’s levels on average since reopening indoor dining on February 12. Nationally, restaurants remain 45 percent below last year’s levels on average for the same time period.