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Higgins presses for restaurant relief in next COVID-19 package

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Fri, Jan 15th 2021 06:50 pm

Congressman: ‘It’s imperative that we act to save these neighborhood fixtures’

Congressman Brian Higgins is pushing for federal grants for restaurants to be included in the first COVID-19 emergency relief package approved by Congress under the new Biden administration.

In a letter to President-elect Joe Biden, Higgins wrote, “Restaurants are more than places to order a meal, they are centers of community, fixtures around which our relationships, routines, and traditions revolve. The COVID-19 pandemic has already cost our country so much. We must do everything we can to ensure restaurants are still standing on the other side.”

Higgins was a cosponsor of the RESTAURANTS Act in the last Congress and plans to back the bill again when it is reintroduced in the coming weeks. The legislation, which provides for a $120 billion grant program that prioritizes small, independent restaurants, was included in the HEROES Act approved by the House in September, but not considered by the Senate.

In a Dec. 4 letter to House and Senate leadership, Higgins also advocated for the RESTAURANTS Act to be included in the end of the year budget and relief package. The measure didn’t make it to the final legislation, but the bill did expand the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to help restaurants by increasing loan amounts to 3.5-times payroll for the “PPP second-draw” program and expanding eligible expenses to include outdoor seating, supplier costs, perishable goods and PPE.

Higgins said, “While programs like Paycheck Protection Program have kept America’s small businesses alive, restaurants have a unique structure and require a fund of their own. In order to ensure restaurants are able to stay afloat, we must expeditiously pass the RESTAURANTS Act, either included in future COVID-19 relief legislation or as a stand-alone bill.”

Higgins’ office has worked throughout the last year to help restaurants access federal resources available to them. The congressman recently met with restaurant owners to hear first-hand the struggles they have faced as a result of the pandemic. Higgins applauded the efforts of restaurants to adapt, but noted the challenges are steep: “While restaurants have shown impressive ingenuity in adapting operations to maintain safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, it cannot fully compensate for once-full dining rooms. It is imperative that we act to save these neighborhood fixtures.”

An analysis by the New York State Department of Labor found the food services industry to be among the top 10 significant industries in Western New York, supporting more than 53,000 jobs.

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