Thompson Opening Statement at Select Revenue Measures Subcommittee Hearing on Restaurants in America During the COVID-19 Pandemic
(As prepared for delivery)
America’s restaurants and restaurant workers are a resilient force. They’ve weathered past recessions and fought their way back after hurricanes and wildfires, but the challenges they face now are unlike anything that’s come before.
Restaurants – and other places where we gather, like theaters, arenas, and concert halls – are uniquely vulnerable to the current public health crisis. They’re places we meet up together, where we celebrate and congregate with friends and family. Social distancing is a public health necessity, but it cuts at the heart of an industry all about taking care of people by bringing them together.
And that’s not where the industry’s challenges end. Restaurants are making dining spaces safer for their guests and employees, working to comply with evolving public health guidance, and facing a hit to outdoor dining as weather changes. These costs add up and are tough to absorb in an industry where profit margins of three to five percent are the norm. And that’s before the added costs of tariffs and other items.
The toll the virus is taking on restaurants is reverberating throughout the economy. So far, COVID has claimed over 30,000 restaurants. It’s leveled such a direct hit that one in four unemployed Americans today are restaurant workers.
This was an unforeseeable catastrophe. Before the pandemic, the restaurant industry was booming, with over a million establishments nationwide employing over 15 million people.
And, the restaurant workforce is hit just as hard, if not harder, than owners. Restaurant work is tough, and the industry is full of tenacious, strong people. Restaurant workers are disproportionately young and people of color, and restaurants employ more than a million single moms. These jobs disappeared through no fault of restaurant workers, many of whom want to be back at work as soon as it is safe. They need our support.
I’m proud of the pandemic relief measures that this committee and others passed to support restaurants and the workers whose jobs disappeared. The Employee Retention Tax Credit, the $1,200 checks, and the $600 expanded federal unemployment benefit all helped. They weren’t perfect, but they did a lot of good.
When we passed those bills, we didn’t know how long the virus would interrupt our economy, we weren’t sure how deep the recession would dip. We hoped that the virus would be better contained by now, and that the economy would be in better condition. But they’re not.
America’s restaurants and restaurant workers need another relief package. America needs another relief package. The House passed just such a measure on May 15th. The Heroes Act would approve another, expanded round of stimulus checks and continue the $600 per week federal unemployment supplement. It would improve the PPP and Employee Retention Tax Credit. It would help restaurants make rent through a tax credit I led, the “Keeping the Lights On” Act. But the Senate has wasted more than four months. We have to act NOW to save this industry, before it’s too late.
85 percent of independent restaurants may go under before the end of the year if more federal relief doesn’t come. This is unthinkable. Restaurants make enormous contributions to our economy and our labor market.
But they do more than that. They make our neighborhoods more walkable and vibrant. They help us get acquainted with other cultures and get in touch with our own roots. They give us space to celebrate our lives, and even just take our mind off of daily difficulties.
In my district, they are an integral part of the community.
Restaurants are fighting to survive, and we need to stand with them. I’d like to warmly welcome all the witnesses who are joining us today, and thank you for what you do.