To put it lightly, the foodservice industry isn’t doing so great. Many restaurants are deciding that the costs and health liabilities tied to continuing to serve take-out and delivery during the pandemic just aren’t worth it. Some foodservice workers have even resorted to selling nudes to make ends meet. At first glance, it may seem like the $2 trillion stimulus bill, known as the CARES Act, had come just in time.
The CARES Act itself is a little convoluted, but the biggest takeaway for average Americans is a direct payment of $1,200 for all adults making less than $75,000 a year. It also includes an extra $600 a month for four months on unemployment benefits, which is good since 10 million people have applied for unemployment in the last two weeks of March.
The average restaurant worker’s annual income is $11,200-$27,332 (for the sake of simplifying the math, I’m going to average that together for $19,266, or $1,605.50 a month), so $1,200 might not sound too shabby at first. But chances are that figure doesn’t include unreported (read: cash) tips, or people who had to work two jobs, or people who got paid under the table. And, ultimately, it’s still a one-time payment of $1,200.
It’s worth pointing out that the people getting hit the hardest by the virus are those in larger metropolitan areas. In most of these cities, $1,200 doesn’t even begin to cover rent.
And there lies the crux of the matter. Because even though work has ceased for millions of Americans, the bills keep coming. Even giants like the Cheesecake Factory are going on rent strikes. A temporary rent freeze for the duration of the pandemic (and, before y’all cry, “what about landlord rights??,” a freeze on mortgage payments as well) would do more for workers than anything that was included in the bill. Without a rent freeze, a one-time payment of $1,200 is like taking a painkiller for a broken leg.
And before anyone says that’s a slippery slope to socialism… yes? And? This bill has already proven the government can pull $2 trillion out of their ass for a social safety net if they want to.
I could go on and on about the drastic need for housing reforms, but I’m pretty sure this was supposed to be a food blog.
For the sake of looking at parts of the bill that aren’t the $1,200 payment, $349 billion have been set aside for Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses. However, this is too little too late for restaurants that have already closed, and restaurants that have furloughed their employees are ineligible for such loans.
Many have also noted that while “luxury” industries like airlines and cruise lines get more attention in the bill, restaurants don’t get any special treatment.
Trump’s official response to concerns about how the restaurant industry would fare in these trying times was, “they’ll all be back,” dismissing the present concerns of the industry with the assumption that chefs could just open new restaurants when the time comes. But, as of now, there’s no way of knowing when that time will be.