The news has been filled these past few weeks with countless stories of Americans working together to help vulnerable members of their communities through this challenging time. We've seen young people delivering groceries to the elderly, manufacturers switching production to make needed supplies, and acts of charity that show the good of humanity.
Many wealthy philanthropists have opened their pocketbooks to help. But while billionaires like Bill Gates donate billions to help find a cure, some of the most prominent, wealthy celebrity chefs in America have been organizing and lobbying to collect insurance payouts and taxpayer giveaways because of the states’ economic shutdowns.
Celebrity chefs Wolfgang Puck and Thomas Keller boast net worths of $90 million and $130 million, respectively, but you wouldn’t have known it based on their March appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight. Within the segment, they pushed Congress to use the force of government to modify the insurance policies between restaurants and insurers so they can file more COVID-19 claims. They also asked for subsidized insurance payouts from the taxpayers, while the duo’s affiliated organization, the Business Interruption Group (BIG), has threatened “BIG” legal action to collect vast payouts.
Unfortunately, Puck and Keller are not alone. Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio’s Independent Restaurant Association wrote to congressional leadership that, “whether [insurance] policies have virus exclusions or not, we need Congress to mandate that insurance companies fulfill their obligations.”
There is no doubt that businesses like restaurants are struggling – that’s why they received so much of the pie in Congress’ $2 trillion relief bill. The last thing these multi-million-dollar chefs need is another government bailout, but it’s never enough for those with power and influence.
No one is arguing against insurance companies paying out for rightful claims. After all, why pay insurance if you're not allowed to collect? But that’s not what these wealthy chefs really want. Their end game appears to be using their friends in high places to strong-arm insurers into giving them things that aren’t included within their plans while receiving massive payoffs at the public’s expense.
Puck, Keller, and the celebrity chefs have demonstrated the worst of elitist entitlement during this pandemic, but they are among company here. An array of industries are similarly bracing for frivolous lawsuits from profiteers. An array of industries are bracing for frivolous lawsuits that seek to work with well-to-do lawyers to exploit this crisis for personal gain. At the top of the list of those vulnerable to such threats are the hospitals, nursing homes, and suppliers of medical equipment that are trying to keep the country safe during this time of great need.
At a time when hospital staffs are going without needed supplies, the elderly remains isolated from their communities, and these millionaires' crews struggle to make ends meet, our nation shouldn’t have to divert its time and money to sideshow cash-grabs.
These unnecessary, self-serving lawsuits will scare away innovators and working professionals from performing essential services during this crisis and deplete valuable funds that needed for medical supplies, food, and community support. Allowing these greedy lawyers to continue their lawsuits will only stop participation by our needed responders and prolong the nation’s health and economic pain.
Judiciary Committee leaders like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) must ensure that Congress doesn’t give into these ridiculous bailout schemes. They should also go further by passing legislation to limit liability protections in this time of crisis.
Along with 9 of their colleagues, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) have already started the process by introducing the Healthcare Workforce Protection Act. Their legislation represents a great start, and Congress should ensure its passage while securing similar protections for all other industries affected by the pandemic.
Now is not the time to allow millionaires like Puck and Keller to manipulate this crisis to get even richer off the American people’s expense. Congress has ensured that small businesses workers and blue-collar workers have received the bulk of its coronavirus relief thus far. Now, it just needs to keep it that way by safeguarding them from exploitation.