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 Graphic by Karina Stenquist

By Colleen Koperek 

Stimulus checks! Expanded unemployment benefits! The same $2.13/hr federal tipped minimum wage and no expanded sick leave! On March 11, 2020 President Biden signed into law the Restaurant Relief Fund (RRF), which allocates $28.6 billion for restaurants, cafes, breweries and other food service establishments. The text of the bill can be found in Section 6.0003 of the American Rescue Plan (ARP), a $1.9 trillion relief effort that also includes extending unemployment until Sept. 6  with an extra $300 per week and a $1,400 stimulus check for every eligible American. Here’s a breakdown of what to know and resources for further reading: 

  1. The relief package was unilaterally opposed by Republicans in both the House and Senate. Your Republican Senator or Representative did not want you or your workplace to receive this aid. Despite valiant attempts to include raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour in the ARP, this language did not end up in the final bill. 
  2. This is the first time restaurants have gotten direct aid. Each restaurant can receive up to $5 million in grant money, or $10 million for restaurants with multiple but fewer than 20 locations. The amount received is based on the revenue losses between 2020 and 2019, less any PPP or EIDL. Funds can, but are not required to, cover payroll, as well as benefits and paid sick leave; It can also cover utilities, rent, mortgage, maintenance, supplies, food, operational expenses and debt to suppliers. Your workplace might get the full five-mill, but you might get nil. 
  3. Yes, that said paid sick leave. Under this bill, restaurants could receive tax credits for voluntarily covering 10 days of paid sick leave for workers, which could include having to miss work to get a vaccine. More specific legislation on this topic is expected in the coming weeks, but this does not expand paid sick leave like the CARES Act. One in four restaurant workers do not have paid sick leave. All of this is could could could, not enough should should should. Call your reps
  4. Businesses owned by women, veterans, or “socially and economically disadvantaged businesses” will be prioritized for the first three weeks the grants are available. Funds will be earmarked for business with gross receipts of less than $500,000. While this is a great start, there also is overly vague language about how long a restaurant needed to be in operation to access these funds; the bill covers any time from February 15, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2021 (See 60003 Sec. 3.A). Theoretically, a restaurant could open for one day during this time period and collect funds. Hey, it could happen!
  5. The RRF is based on the RESTAURANTS Act, first proposed in June 2020 but never passed. The RESTAURANTS Act proposed $120 billion in bailout funds for restaurants, but never mandated any of the funds received would be guaranteed to cover payroll. Even if it had passed, there was no way to guarantee money would get into the hands of workers. 
  6. The RRF and The RESTAURANTS Act both came to be in large part due to two lobbying groups: The National Restaurant Association and the Independent Restaurant Coalition. One old, one new, one big, one not-as-big, both operating under the guise of speaking for restaurants, but definitely not speaking for workers. 
  7. The National Restaurant Association, also called “the other NRA,” is a notorious lobbying group founded in 1919. Its legacy includes opposing the National Labor Review Board’s joint employer standard, blocking paid sick leave in 12 states and successfully lobbying against raising the minimum wage in 27 states. They are the reason it’s possible for you to be paid $2.13/hour. Clearly they do not think you are worth much (but we do <3). Also, in 1996 they voluntarily elected the late Herman Cain as their CEO. 
  8. The Independent Restaurant Coalition was founded in response to COVID last year by absentee chef-owner Tom Colicchio as “a voice for the independent restaurant and bar community nationwide.” Most of their board members have Wikipedia pages. They championed the RESTAURANTS Act  and claim to represent 11 million workers, yet never called for provisions to protect payroll in any of their prime-time interviews. Yes, restaurants need help, but restaurant workers must be included. 
  9. Previous COVID bailout funds paid out under the CARES Act include the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). Both will receive a new round of funding as part of the ARC. PPP loans do not need to be paid back if 60% of funds received cover payroll and Targeted EIDL funds do not need to be repaid at all. The amount a business received for PPP is equal to 2.5 times the payroll of 2019. Both can be tracked here, and we encourage you to utilize this resource. 
  10. A Lot of this seems like fuzzy math and imagined possibilities, and really, at this point alot of it is. The Small Business Association will be hammering out the details in the coming weeks and months. But the more you know, the more empowered you can be to hold your workplace accountable. To find resources specific to your state click here.

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