HARRISBURG, July 27 — Citing the distressing impacts COVID-19 is having on Pennsylvania’s restaurant industry and a recent Yelp survey showing more than half of restaurants could close permanently due to the virus’ impact, Democrats in Harrisburg have crafted a legislative package aimed at providing relief to community business owners and the workers that cook and serve our food.
The package includes nine bills that would provide grants to local restaurants, bars and clubs, reduce and eliminate specific licensing fees, extend discounts to licensees and protect businesses by guaranteeing their insurance pays out in future emergencies.
These efforts will provide direct relief to an industry of Pennsylvania businesses the virus has hit hard, House Democratic leaders said. Restrictions put in place have been necessary in the state’s response to COVID-19. The leaders said they recognize the hardship the virus has continued to place on the restaurant industry. Restaurants have served as the backdrop of many life occasions and special moments and they need support more now than ever.
The House Democratic package includes:
- Earmarking CARES grant funding from the federal government to be directed to small, community restaurants instead of national chains to ensure those dollars are invested back into the region. (Rep. Joe Ciresi, Montgomery County & Rep. Tina Davis, Bucks County)
- Earmarking CARES grant funding from the federal government for Pennsylvania breweries, distilleries and wineries forced to reduce capacity to protect patrons. Most of these businesses are small and family-operated and help support multiple community efforts, and this funding will help keep them in operation. (Rep. Steve Malagari, Montgomery County)
- Expanding access to outdoor dining for restaurants and diners, including removing limitations concerning public thoroughfares, fees and delays in approval. Scientific evidence is growing that outdoor activity is a much lower risk than indoor dining, and helping restaurants add space outdoors can help them stay open while giving people an opportunity to get out and enjoy themselves. (Rep. Dan Deasy Allegheny County)
- Waiving the liquor license renewal fee for any bar, restaurant or club that suffered more than a 25% downturn in business due to the virus. The state can wait; the people running the local businesses might not be able to. (Rep. Gerald Mullery, Luzerne County)
- Increasing the discount for restaurants and bars holding liquor licenses when they purchase wholesale alcohol from 10% to 15%, putting more money back in the pockets of operators to keep their doors open and staff employed. (Rep. Mary Isaacson, Philadelphia)
- Eliminating the $500 off-premise catering permit fee to allow more restaurants to safely cook food in kitchens and deliver it to safe outdoor locations, as well as remove the March deadline to submit an application to do off-premise catering, and end the 52-event-per-year cap (Rep. Steve McCarter, Montgomery County)
- Eliminating sales tax late payment penalties on restaurants and bars purchasing alcohol from wholesalers and allowing for a repayment grace period when the industry has recovered. (Rep. Jake Wheatley, Allegheny County)
- Requiring business insurance policies to pay damages and benefits when a disaster emergency is declared. An insurance policy that doesn’t pay the holder when emergencies arise is worse than no coverage at all — it’s money that could have been used to reinvest in the business thrown away. When the pandemic hit, many policies invoked an “Act of God” loophole to not pay damages, and our businesses have suffered. (Rep. Frank Dermody, Allegheny & Westmoreland counties)
- Allowing license holders with licenses in safekeeping relief from paying the license renewal or validation fee for a period of one year. Just a few months ago, many of these businesses were making renovations and improvements that would have put them in a position to remove their license from safekeeping and start operating — the virus delay shouldn’t stop these entrepreneurs from reinvesting in their communities. (Rep. Anita Kulik, Allegheny County)
House Democrats recognize that fast, decisive action has been required to reduce the spread of the virus, and these real-world solutions would help to mitigate the collateral economic damage that many Pennsylvania businesses have suffered as a result.