Why McConnell’s HEALS Act Will Not Do Enough To Save Independent Restaurants

Food & Drink

Yesterday, Senator Mitch McConnell proposed the HEALS Act, which includes the next round of coronavirus aid. But the Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC) claims it will not do enough, and continues seeking support and pushing for signatures on the RESTAURANTS Act.

Yesterday, the IRC shared an updated statement in response to the Senate’s proposed HEALS Act, which does not provide direct aid to independent restaurants and bars, highlighting the need for restaurant-specific relief in the days leading up to the August recess.

“Look around your neighborhood: there’s a good chance one of your favorite restaurants or bars has closed forever. The longer Congress waits to deliver relief to independent restaurants, the more businesses risk permanently shuttering and wiping out at least 16 million jobs across the country. The changes to the Paycheck Protection Program proposed by Senator McConnell today are a good start, but independent restaurants don’t need another loan when we are accumulating more debt and taking on more losses due to circumstances out of our control. A ‘good start’ isn’t enough four months into the pandemic— we need immediate relief now.

“The RESTAURANTS Act is the only bipartisan measure designed specifically to address the unique vulnerabilities of America’s 500,000 independent restaurants. It’s the only small business relief proposal that’s generated bipartisan support from over 120 House and Senate members from over 30 states. It also props up countless other industries and millions of jobs up and down the supply chain, which is why hundreds of businesses — including small family farms and bigger companies like American Express — have banded together to endorse the RESTAURANTS Act.

“No single industry has suffered more job losses or longer closures due to the pandemic than our nation’s restaurants — and no one industry’s survival would have as profound of an impact on our economy as independent restaurants would. Time is running out and independent restaurants cannot wait. We are confident lawmakers will stand up for independent restaurants at the negotiating table and make the Independent Restaurant Revitalization Fund a reality.”

Formed by chefs and independent restaurant owners across the country, the IRC is a grassroots movement that seeks to secure vital protections for the nation’s 500,000 independent restaurants and the more than 11 million restaurant workers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The coalition believes that among all the small business relief proposals currently being discussed in Congress, the RESTAURANTS Act is the only one that carries bipartisan support from over 125 members of Congress in both chambers, representing over 30 states.

The RESTAURANTS Act would establish a $120 billion Independent Restaurant Revitalization Fund geared toward assisting small restaurants and bars impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Last month, the legislation was introduced on a bipartisan basis in both the Senate by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and in the House by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR 3). The legislation already boasts 123 cosponsors in the House and 10 cosponsors in the Senate, including Sens. Doug Jones (D-AL), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Chris Coons (D-DE), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Cory Gardner (R-CO).

Major U.S. corporations including American Express, The Coca-Cola Company, Delta Air Lines, Hyatt Hotels, Resy, Sysco and US Foods announced their support for the RESTAURANTS Act, warning Congress that, without restaurants, “every one of our businesses would be impacted and the economic framework of cities and towns across all parts of the United States would be dramatically altered for the worse.”

On July 16th, prominent Texas restaurateurs and IRC members called on Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz to support the RESTAURANTS Act. On the press call, Texas restaurateurs Kevin Fink, Alba Huerta, Tim Love, and Chris Shepherd asked their representatives to support the legislation and outlined its potential impacts on the state and national economies.

“I’m fighting to keep my business,” says Houston restaurateur and founder of Southern Smoke Foundation, Chris Shepherd. “We’re trying everything. We’ve got take and bakes in local grocery stores. I’m hosting virtual cooking classes from my home kitchen multiple times a week. We worked with Lexus and Tellepsen Landscaping to build an inviting patio at One Fifth Mediterranean so guests would feel more comfortable dining with us. I’ll do anything to keep my dishwashers, bussers, cooks, hosts, servers, bartenders and managers paid. And even with everything we’re doing, we’re still at 30 percent of the revenue we were doing this time last year. Every day is a battle.”

According to a recent economic report from Compass Lexecon, the fund would return up to $271 billion in economic benefits, as well as reducing nationwide unemployment by 2.4%. The legislation would be particularly impactful in Texas, where the leisure and hospitality industry has contributed to nearly a third of all jobs lost since March.

The IRC projects the RESTAURANTS Act would:

  • Generate $15.3 billion in economic benefits for Texas.
  • Protect 357,000 Texan jobs.
  • Protect Texas’ tourism industry, which stands to benefit $8.5 billion from the RESTAURANTS Act, the 2nd largest gain in the nation.
  • Help ensure Texas’ 236,800 small farms stay in business, along with providing $1.5 billion in economic benefits directly to suppliers like bakers, fishermen, butchers, and others.
  • Save Texas $2.7 billion in state unemployment benefits and insurance taxes.

“PPP is an 8-week solution to a 9-month problem,” says Shepherd. “We need industry-specific relief that the RESTAURANTS Act can bring. Without restaurants, everyone will see the effects. Your groceries become more expensive. More people will be on long-term unemployment. Even nonprofits will suffer without restaurants to provide complimentary food or donations to silent auctions. This is not a problem that just affects us in the business. It’s got an incredible ripple effect.” 

If you want to get involved, it takes about 30 seconds to voice your support for local mom and pop restaurants and bars across the country.

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