Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is asking for the government to open up the tab for the hospitality industry before more businesses are closed and workers lose their jobs.
New York’s junior senator was joined by renowned chef Tom Colicchio, owner of Crafted Hospitality and founding member of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, on Zoom Thursday afternoon to remind the government that despite the COVID-19 recovery efforts, independent restaurants are still wrestling to stay afloat amid crippling debts to landlords built up over the course of the pandemic.
The pair also cited additional costs incurred due to the pandemic, such as air ventilation upgrades, as contributing factors to the financial losses of business owners. Colicchio himself admits that he is among the hundreds of entrepreneurs in the restaurant business who owe a seemingly insurmountable sum in back rent payments.
“I am fortunate enough to have my landlords work with me. I’ve had one landlord that wouldn’t, and that restaurant closed. But they are deferring rent, so in one turn alone I own $1.2 million in back rent. I have my landlords working with me and I have a period of time before I have to start paying that back but that’s the reality of it,” Colicchio said.
Additionally, the Independent Restaurant Coalition reported that the future of 50,153 restaurants and bars are at stake and are depending on COVID relief funds. They estimate that 31.6% of the jobs lost in New York were from the leisure and hospitality industry.
“The $28.6 billion originally allocated in the Restaurant Revitalization Fund was a huge step in addressing the ongoing and unique economic crisis that our nation’s restaurants weathered this past year. The demand for the fund simply outpaced the supply, and we need to ensure these businesses get the resources they desperately need,” said Gillibrand. “Independent restaurants are critical to our economy and this additional $60 billion funding boost will provide direct aid to the restaurant owners Congress initially intended to assist and help these vital businesses keep their doors open.”
The American Rescue Plan was enacted in March, aiding millions of individuals through COVID-Relief funds. While Gillibrand and members of Congress pushed for the $28.6 billion to be awarded to restaurants, food establishments and others in the hospitality industry through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, the sheer influx of those needing help has surpassed the amount of money available. Coupled with the court cases that have put a halt on prioritizing applications.
The goal of this fund was intended to focus on those who needed it the most and disproportionately affected by the pandemic such as women, minorities, and veteran owners — approximately less than one-third of the 362,000 applicants have actually received funding.
Colicchio stated that more must be done as owners become concerned with the approaching fall season and the COVID-19 variants that have been popping up across the globe. The fear of a winter of shutdowns and other devastating effects of the virus has many wondering if they can rack up anymore debt, let alone have their business stay afloat.
“The Restaurant Revitalization Fund is doing everything it was intended to do, but we need more. Right now, the estimates are at $60 billion that will cover all of the applicants that are currently in process,” Colicchio said.
Last August, it was reported that 90% of bar and restaurant owners could not afford their rent due to the economic crisis and the expenses made to accommodate CDC requirements as well as outdoor dining.