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‘Did the Lockdowns Write This’? Op-Ed Says We Should Stop Feeling Bad for Restaurants Torched by COVID

AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu

So, we should stop feeling bad about restaurants during the COVID lockdowns, huh? Yeah, someone actually wrote that in The Hill, which prompted some people to ask, mockingly, if the lockdowns penned the piece. It’s not an entirely heartless piece, but it’s certainly not something that will bring comfort to countless families and workers who were laid off due to the COVID pandemic. It was also unnecessary. New York found that restaurants, bars, hair salons, and gyms were incredibly low-transmission areas. Do you know where COVID does spread like a brushfire? Your home. Household spread is what causes this thing to explode and a lot of blue states remain convinced that keeping people inside of their homes is the right policy. 


Anyway, back to this piece about how restaurants are okay now or something. The author lists multiple relief, loan, and rental assistance programs that have been established to help the hospitality industry as the main reasons why we don’t have to feel bad for these places anymore. Oh, also the business is tough even before pandemic times, which is true. A lot of restaurants fail, sure. That increases immensely when the government comes and starts locking things up over a virus with a 90+ percent survivability rate (via The Hill):

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), there are about 30.2 million small businesses in the U.S., of which 5.9 million actually have employees. The SBA reports that anywhere from 7 to 9 percent of those 5.9 million employer firms go out of business every year. Breaking it down, that comes to as many as 531,000 failed firms annually. 

In other words, lots of small businesses – especially restaurants – close every year, regardless of global pandemics.

Yes, it's been a very difficult year for the restaurant industry. But you know what? The ones that remain are going to be just fine. In fact, many will probably emerge in better shape than before. That's because, despite the rules from governments that required those businesses to curtail their operations, those same governments actually stepped up to provide a lot of assistance. And smart restaurant owners took advantage.


For starters, the Paycheck Protection Program launched a second round late in 2020 that not only specifically targeted the restaurant industry but also changed its loan calculation to make more funds available for them. The new rules also expanded the definition of forgivable expenses to include costs such as food contracts and investments in all those outdoor dining setups that provided more protection both for workers and customers. Hundreds of thousands of restaurants nationwide took advantage of these added benefits.

Besides the much-needed Paycheck Protection Program, many smart restaurant owners also took (and continue to take) advantage of the other generous federal pandemic benefit programs, such as the Employee Retention Tax Credit (which offers significant refundable credits on payroll taxes for eligible businesses that retain their employees) and the Economic Injury Disaster long program offered by the Small Business Administration. Restaurant owners in low to moderate income areas also snapped up targeted grants from the SBA.


Across the country, cities and states issued rules that suspended rental payments and launched rental assistance programs that impacted countless smaller restaurants. For example, and thanks to the federal stimulus, my hometown of Philadelphia has offered as much as $100 million in aid to small businesses in the city


Besides that assistance, many cities – like Philadelphia as well as Dallas and Boston – have eased permit restrictions and allowed their restaurants to build makeshift eateries on the sidewalks and streets outside their establishments. Equipped with heaters and air ducts, those tables have been filled throughout the winter with intrepid diners desperate for a night away from Netflix.


I mean, yes—light is at the end of the tunnel. We’re probably near herd immunity. Vaccinations are moving along quite well, with at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines being administered to over 100 million Americans. Tens of millions of kids generally don’t get it or spread it—and there the millions more who are now naturally immune due to past infections. I still feel bad for these locations and workers. Sorry, just because they’re getting help doesn’t lessen the severity of the destruction caused by the lockdowns. We can all do victory laps after the fire is put out, but the devastation then comes into view. For workers laid off, I’m sure they’re not feeling the same way. Also, these jobs are at risk of never coming back if Democrats continue with this obsession to increase the minimum wage. So, while it’s good that these businesses have adapted, doing the best with what they’ve got, and are getting much-needed assistance, they got a punch to the gut in an already merciless industry, so no—not necessarily saying “all is well” for these establishments just yet. We need to reopen fully—like in Texas. NOW. 

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