by David Klemt

Competing Stimulus Plans Fail to Include RESTAURANTS Act

by David Klemt – 12/3/2020

Talk out of Washington, D.C., about yet more stimulus relief package negotiations is making one thing starkly clear: We’re on our own.

There’s no help coming, not from the federal government.

Unfortunately—but perhaps unsurprisingly—it appears the bipartisan support the RESTAURANTS Act received in Congress was an exercise in optics. The result? Fleeting hope.

Without a signature from the president, it doesn’t matter that Congress voted to pass a revised HEROES Act two months ago. Lest anyone forget, the last time a meaningful Covid-19 relief package was signed by the current president on March 27 of this year.

Another way to put that is that our elected officials haven’t managed to pass a stimulus package signed into law for 251 days. They did, however, find the time for a week-long recess for Thanksgiving.

It was announced just two days ago that a bipartisan group of congresspeople and senators had negotiated a $908 billion stimulus package. The intention was to strike a middle ground between Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) desire for a $500 billion package and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) proposed $2 trillion-plus bill.

Yesterday, multiple sources reported that the $908 billion—which apparently didn’t include the RESTAURANTS Act—was dead on arrival.

Of note, at least to me, is that Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) is reported to have mentioned that this week’s touted bipartisan package had been negotiated “over pizza or pasta at people’s houses.” I have to wonder if the pizza or pasta was prepared, provided and delivered by restaurants that are among the hundreds of thousands facing permanent closure if the government doesn’t actually act in a meaningful way.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, on his way to a House committee meeting, reportedly said, “The president will sign the McConnell proposal that he put forward yesterday, and we look forward to making progress on that.”

From what I was able to glean, the RESTAURANTS Act isn’t included in McConnell’s bill either. Neither are stimulus checks nor a federal boost to unemployment insurance payments. Supposedly it does include an extension of the problematic Paycheck Protection Program (PPP); liability protection for schools and businesses; and a $332 million grant for theaters and live venues.

If the tone of this article comes across as angry, I freely admit that’s an accurate assessment. The RESTAURANTS Act was first introduced to Congress on June 15. Elected officials have had 171 days to help the hospitality industry.

The industry that employs more than 16 million people—11 million of which are employed by independent restaurants. The industry that generates well over $760 billion in annual sales. The industry that accounts for 3.5 percent of America’s GDP. The industry that has for years provided venues, food and drinks for elected officials’ countless re-election campaign fundraisers.

The industry that, should tens or hundreds of thousands of restaurants close their doors permanently, will shed millions of jobs that will not return.

And that’s just what’s happening to the industry in the United States. The industry is similarly at extremely high risk for irreversible devastation in Canada and throughout the world.

So, yes—I’m angry. I’m angry that the millions of jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars this industry contributes just to America apparently don’t mean much to government officials.

I suppose I can only blame myself for holding out hope that the RESTAURANTS Act would be signed into law. After all, the president, speaking about restaurants back in March, said, “they’ll all come back in one form or another,” adding, “It may not be the same restaurant, it may not be the same ownership, but they’ll be back.”

They won’t be back. We’ve already suffered permanent closures. There was no prescience—or empathy—in the president’s statement. Let me make this clear: I’m not laying all of this solely at his feet. America’s politicians on all sides have failed the hospitality industry and therefore millions of Americans.

Restaurants, bars, lounges, nightclubs, hotels… This is an industry that consists of incredibly resilient people. There comes a point, however, that even the most resilient need help.

As hospitality professionals fight to return to their feet, bloodied and battered from countless blows, it doesn’t seem that the government is in their corner. Nothing would make me happier than to be proven wrong, but we’ve been at this crossroads for months now.

Image: Caleb Perez on Unsplash