It’s been less than a month since President Donald Trump signed the last COVID-19 relief bill into law, but President-elect Joe Biden has already released his own spending proposal, a massive $1.9 trillion plan that comes on the heels of an employment report showing that the country’s battered hospitality industry lost 372,000 jobs in December alone.
Biden’s COVID-19 package contains numerous proposals to increase aid for struggling workers and families throughout the economy, but while the proposal, accessed via the Washington Post website, acknowledges how bars and restaurants have suffered “disproportionately,” the administration’s plans to help the industry are vague.
The new package would issue $1,400 stimulus checks to Americans, raise enhanced unemployment aid to $400 per week, extend jobless benefits for gig workers like restaurant delivery people, reinstate mandatory COVID-19 sick leave, offer child care tax credits, double rental assistance, and raise the minimum wage.
There is no mention of the RESTAURANTS Act, the $120 billion grant program that would effectively bail out bars, food trucks, and other struggling culinary establishments. The House of Representatives passed that initiative as part of the revamped HEROES Act last fall, but the Senate refused to take it up. Biden’s plan also doesn’t mention extending the Paycheck Protection Program, which offers short-term forgivable loans to bars, restaurants, and other small businesses.
For owners, the Biden proposal includes plans for $15 billion in grants to help one million of the country’s hardest hit small business “get back on their feet.” The plan also states that the president-elect wants to “work with Congress” to make sure that bars, restaurants, and other businesses “have sufficient support” to stay afloat. Biden is vague on how that might happen, but he mentions using the Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Credit Corporation, without going into further detail.
Here’s what Andrew Rigie, head of the New York Hospitality Alliance, a group that advocates on behalf of the local restaurant and nightlife industry, had to say following Biden’s announcement:
The following is a quick primer on details of the Biden rescue package. It’s not yet clear whether the expensive plan will have enough support to pass Congress as is, even with Democrats set to control both chambers. Also, outside of sick leave, there does not appear to be any targeted aid for undocumented workers, who make up a significant portion of the hospitality industry.
Highlights of the Biden COVID-19 relief proposal
- Stimulus checks: Biden wants to send out direct payments at $1,400, bringing up the total to $2,000 if one counts the $600 checks that started going out in late December.
- Enhanced unemployment: Jobless Americans would see Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation rise $100 to $400. Combined with state unemployment aid, that assistance would let more entry-level cooks and bartenders collect their full salaries while jobless. The payments would last through the end of September, past the mid-March expiration date of the current enhanced program.
- Rental assistance: The current $25 billion in emergency rental aid from the December stimulus would be doubled.
- Minimum wage: Biden would eliminate the tip credit and raise the full minimum wage to $15 for everyone, including servers. Federally, the minimum wage has remained at $7.25/hour since 2009; the national tipped minimum wage is just $2.13. New York City already has a $15 minimum, but inasmuch as Gov. Andrew Cuomo likes to be ahead of the curve, his could prompt the state to eliminate the tipped minimum even sooner.
- Sick leave: The stimulus package would reinstitute COVID-19 paid sick leave, which expired at the end of 2020. The proposal would eliminate exceptions for companies with fewer than 50 or more than 500 employees, which should expand protections for nationwide restaurant workers. The benefit will max out at $1,400 per week, versus up to $511 per day under the old program, but the policy proposal asks for up to 14 weeks of leave, as opposed to the former two weeks.
- FEMA Restaurant Partnership: Biden would support the FEMA Empowering Essential Workers Act to help restaurants feed struggling families and “help get laid-off restaurant workers across the country back on the job.”
- SNAP benefits: The December stimulus raised Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits by 15 percent, up to $234 per month. Biden would extend that aid through September.
- Expanding child care access: The stimulus would provide $15 billion in child care funding, on top of the $10 billion in funding under the previous stimulus. Biden would also expand child care tax credits for one year, for families earning less than $125,000 a year, with reduced benefits for families earning up to $400,000 a year. A family could received up to $4,000 back in tax credits for one child or up to $8,000 for two or more.
- Hazard pay: The plan calls for back “generous” hazard pay for essential workers, singling out grocery and retail employees, but the only definite proposal appears to be calling upon chief executive officers at relevant companies to take this action themselves.