(Photo: Peter Clark | CC)
Restaurant industry leaders, including Galatoire’s Melvin Rodrigue, attended a roundtable meeting with President Donald Trump last week to discuss the federal government’s ability to extend relief measures for businesses affected by the prolonged COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
Rodrigue, who’s also Chair of the National Restaurant Association Board of Directors, and other owners of restaurants big and small gathered at the White House May 18 to advocate to the president for the extension of certain loan provisions of the Paycheck Protection Program.
The program offered small businesses $669 billion worth of low-interest private loans through the Small Business Administration to pay for operating expenses and keep employees on payrolls during coronavirus lockdowns. It’s considered the main piece of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law on March 27.
Rodigue stressed the need for loan extensions for restaurants, citing a slow recovery as coronavirus restrictions are gradually eased.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell ordered a May 16 phased reopening of businesses, including restaurants, which are required to abide by certain requirements, such as continued social/physical distancing of 6 feet or more and a 25% seating capacity.
“We rely on social interaction,” Rodrigue said, adding the reduced seating capacity will make comeback difficult. “When we reopen at 25 percent, we’ll lose more money than last week because now we’re incurring expenses.”
Specifically, restaurants seek to extend two deadlines in the law that make them eligible for loan forgiveness.
One is extending a June 30 deadline to Oct. 31, or longer, in order to give restaurants more time to hire and retain employees as lockdown restrictions are gradually lifted; and the other is extending an eight week deadline to spend the loan on restaurant expenses such as payroll, rent and utilities.
The federal government gave businesses the chance to meet loan forgiveness eligibility based on how many employees are rehired by June 30 and then kept on the payroll for at least eight weeks.
Additionally, restaurant owners requested an extension of the duration of time in which they have to spend the loaned money upon receipt—from eight weeks to 24 weeks.
The city received more than 19 million visitors in 2019, or a 6.7% increase from last year, according to the city’s tourism bureau, although Rodrigue indicated it will take months for restaurants to bounce back from another disaster.
“We survived Hurricane Katrina,” Rodrigue said. “We’ve survived the BP oil spill. Restauranteurs are a [resilient group].”
Changes in the law require Congressional approval, although the Senate was unable to come to a vote on Thursday. The House is considering similar legislation.
In addition, Trump teased the possibility of a payroll tax deductions and liability protections for small businesses in order to protect against coronavirus-related lawsuits. Although several restaurant leaders welcome those measures, they touted the PPP extensions as an important first step to reopening.
Read the entire transcript of the White House roundtable meeting.