Neal Statement at Select Revenue Measures Subcommittee Hearing on Restaurants in America During the COVID-19 Pandemic
(As prepared for delivery)
Thank you, Mike, for hosting this important hearing. I wanted to take part today because restaurants are hurting. They are hurting throughout my district in central and Western Massachusetts and all over the country—in urban and rural communities. My heart goes out to restaurant owners and their employees and the communities they serve and sustain.
Restaurants are familiar neighborhood anchors where people can get a good meal, a place to connect with friends and family, and important job creators.
Places like Student Prince & Fort Café and Red Rose in Springfield or Mazzeo’s in Pittsfield.
And in Williamstown, Mezze Bistro and Bar that was co-founded by one of my constituents, Nancy Thomas.
But when the COVID-19 virus led to stay-at-home orders and social distancing, it had a cataclysmic impact on our nation’s restaurants and their workers.
Currently, restaurants contribute to one in four jobs losses from the COVID-19 shutdown. Even establishments that have hung on are facing substantial cuts to wages and hours.
The Payroll Protection Program (PPP) as part of the CARES Act provided a financial lifeline to businesses and an incentive for restaurant owners to keep their workers. In my district, 808 PPP loans were distributed to restaurants that totaled close to $68 million and helped protect close to 14,000 jobs. Many restaurant workers are women and people of color who are often marginalized, and this program provided peace of mind to them and their families.
I am proud of the work Massachusetts has done to thoughtfully reopen restaurants across the Commonwealth. It’s a good example of how to move forward while properly following public health guidelines.
But more is needed to help our nation’s struggling restaurants.
First and foremost, we need to continue to remember this is a health crisis. And our nation’s economy won’t bounce back until we beat the virus, which is with us until there is a safe, effective vaccine.
Since March, the Ways and Means Committee has taken substantial steps not only to combat the public health crisis, but also to support American workers and keep our economy afloat.
Many of those efforts were included in the Heroes Act and would help restaurant owners and their employees. It significantly increases the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) and makes it applicable to more employers and types of expenses. It also allows employers who have taken a PPP loan to access the ERTC on any wages not already covered. This boosts the PPP to help employers continue to pay their employees.
Heroes also expands paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave credits from the Families First Act through the end of 2021. And it provides another round of Economic Impact Payments and expansions of childcare and refundable credits helping struggling workers and families.
These are reasonable, effective relief measures. And they go a long way to help alleviate more restaurant closures and help the workers who are desperate for support and assurance.
This is the biggest crisis the restaurant industry has ever faced. And the ripple effect can be felt by other jobs that support restaurants like food supply chains, farmers, fishermen, and truck drivers.
In my district, it has been a double whammy. Tanglewood in the Berkshires cancelled their season, and many of the area restaurants were impacted because of it. The effects will also be felt going into the fall when many tourists usually flock to the area.
The restaurant industry and those that support it need certainty now more than ever. We have an obligation to help them, and that includes the infusion of more money into our economy. The Heroes Act provides that.
I applaud Chairman Thompson for his leadership on these important issues and for calling this hearing.