Before the meeting was upended by President Trump's shock reveal that he's been taking hydroxychloroquine for two weeks now, Trump chatted with a group of restaurant industry leaders in a roundtable discussion to learn how they've been faring during the coronavirus pandemic. The restaurateurs in turn provided some counsel to Trump and members of his cabinet which they believe will help keep their establishments alive.
The Payment Protection Program, a provision in the CARES Act intended to help struggling small businesses, has so far provided $38 billion in aid to hundreds of thousands of restaurants. And the leaders at the table were grateful.
Jose Cil, CEO of Restaurant Brands International: "You've acted quickly, swiftly, and with good measure. The CARES Act and the PPE had a tremendous impact on our businesses." pic.twitter.com/pyPbYQoFIS— The White House (@WhiteHouse) May 18, 2020
James Bodenstedt, president and CEO of MUY Companies, said that the PPP was "such a big deal" that he was able to retain all of his 20,000 employees that work in his over 700 restaurants.
Yet, the table had a few requests.
"Mr. President, the PPP would be a godsend if we can make one change. If we can extend the time that we have, to spend the proceeds," said Marvin Irby, interim president and CEO
The 8-week period, Irby argued, is simply not enough time for many communities. A buffer, he continued, will allow smaller restaurateurs to open. He clarified for Secretary Mnuchin that they're not asking for additional money, just the extra flexibility.
The consensus among the restaurant industry leaders was that they need 24 weeks to spend the funds, not eight weeks as the current measure mandates. That would move the end-date from June 30 to October 31.
Trump appeared to be very open to the change, turning to his left and asking Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin if it could be done. Mnuchin said he is working on a "technical fix" to alter the loan window and that there is bipartisan support for it. Democrats proposed the change in the recent HEROES Act.
Trump later added it was one of the "easiest requests he's ever heard."
"I think what they're asking for is very reasonable," the president told the press.
There are over 650,000 restaurants in the U.S. and, as Vice President Mike Pence noted, Americans get 50 percent of their sustenance from restaurants.
Considering they employ thousands of people, the president wants to get it done.
You can watch the entire roundtable discussion below.
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