Restaurants lobby Congress for $120 billion “lifeline” as thousands face permanent closure

Coronavirus

(CBS) — Of the 23 million people who lost a job early in the pandemic, more than 6 million worked in the food and beverage industry. A recent report predicts up to 230,000 restaurants could permanently shutter by the end of 2020.

Now, restaurant owners have banded together to form the Independent Restaurant Coalition, which has the backing of some of the U.S. culinary industry’s top names and is lobbying Congress to pass a $120 billion bailout for small- and mid-sized restaurants.

“This is everything that will give us the necessary lifeline to get through this period, but also to get slightly past here and get open,” chef and TV host Tom Colicchio told CBS News’ Errol Barnett. “And so when we finally do have a vaccine and when the country finally opens up and people feel comfortable coming back, we’ll have restaurants to get back to.”

The group launched a new TV ad starring Morgan Freeman, aimed at urging Congress to help these restaurants survive the coronavirus pandemic

“Sixteen million people risk losing their jobs, disproportionately impacting people of color and single mothers,” the actor’s voice can be heard saying. “Without your help our favorite places to eat will be gone, forever.”

Lockdowns imposed by state and local governments have prevented bars and restaurants from operating as normal and forced them to get creative to keep customers. Despite their efforts, most owners are barely keeping the lights on. 

“Downtown is like a ghost town, you know. I think the buildings are about occupiable less than 50%,” Ohio restaurant owner Carolina Guttierez said. “We depend on the business people, especially here in the downtown area.”

Even after laying off staff and ramping up takeout at their two Ohio locations, Guttierez and her husband are worried they soon won’t be able to afford their $8,000 per month rent for Arepazo in downtown Columbus. 

“The landlord needs to get his money. But if I’m down 50%, 60%, how am I going to come up with the money, you know?” she asked.

New Orleans-based chef Nina Compton shares their stress, having had to lay off nearly 100 people at her two restaurants to stay afloat. She said the economic impact is felt far beyond the doors of her establishments. 

“This is about the farmer that provides me beautiful produce, this is about the fisherman that gives me beautiful shrimp. I’m keeping their jobs alive,” Compton said. “I’m fighting for many people that don’t have a voice that are, you know, in their kitchens right now just trying to make things work.”

And without government support for the Restaurants Act bailout, she said they “just can’t stay afloat.”

“Everybody’s looking for a bit of hope,” she said. 

The Restaurant Coalition says its effort has already prompted thousands of calls to Congress and nearly 200 co-sponsors for the legislation in both the House and Senate. Lawmakers are still negotiating a new round of stimulus funding, and do not appear close to a deal.

“One of the best places to put stimulus through is the restaurant industry, because every dollar that we take in typically $0.95 to $0.90 go out the door. Our margins are that slim,” Colicchio said. “We’re not going to take this money and pocket it. We’re not going to pay bonuses to executives. We’re not going to buy back stock. This money will get out there in the community.”

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