The nation’s top Democratic lawmaker went to a struggling Lower East Side vegetarian restaurant Sunday to tout a meaty relief proposal that would help eateries ravaged by pandemic restrictions.
US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said 92 percent of Big Apple restaurants could not afford their rent in December and that many of them won’t survive the next six months without federal relief.
He spoke about the proposed Restaurants Act, which was added to the COVID-19 relief bill on the Senate floor last week, at Allen Street’s Dirt Candy on Sunday.
“As the majority leader, I have the ability to determine what goes on the floor of the Senate, and the first bill I put on was the Restaurants Act,” Schumer said
Under the measure, $25 billion would be available in grants over a six-month period for restaurants to pay employees, rent or insurance or buy PPE, he said.
“It’s very flexible and very tailored to what the restaurants need,” the Democrat said.
“Our restaurants are in trouble. Thousands more will close if we don’t get them aid,” Schumer said. “People have not been going to restaurants. [Eateries] have ongoing expenses. They have leases. They have rent. They have insurance.
“They’re one of the backbones of our economy and along with our stages and our arts areas, they are suffering the most.”
Dirt Candy owner and chef Amanda Cohen said her business needs all the help it can get.
“I used to have 35 employees. I currently have six. I will not survive without more aid,” she said.
“It’s impossible. We aren’t getting the business we used to. I used to be able to seat 90-100 people a night. These days, we’re seating somewhere around 20.
“I am down 75 percent in profits, and unless I get a grant — not a loan, I will not survive on a loan, I’m not making enough money to pay back a loan — there’s no way Dirt Candy can survive.”
Under the bill, individual restaurants could claim a grant of up to $5 million, with $10 million available to smaller chains. Large corporate chains with more than 20 restaurants would not qualify.
The size of the grant would depend on lost revenue between 2019 and 2020.
This week, city restaurants will be permitted to boost their indoor dining capacity to 35 percent, a benchmark that Cohen claims is still well short of profitability for her.
“It’s been pretty traumatic. Every day is a roller coaster. We’re dealing with huge amounts of lost income, loss of business,” Cohen said. “The weather has not been very helpful in the last couple of months.
“It’s really hard to sustain a restaurant and sustain our mental well-being. We need something that’s going to give us a sigh of relief.”
A study released in October by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli estimated that as many as half of all New York City bars and restaurants could shutter permanently by April due to the pandemic.
President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package also includes $1,400 direct checks to eligible Americans making less than $75,000 a year, extensions for $400 extra a week in federal unemployment benefits and the long-sought Democratic priority of a federal minimum wage increase to $15.