Working with F&B leaders, legislators help rescue restaurants

Jeff Bradley

Since the last week of March, things have been a blur, with scores of conference calls and Zoom meetings. Much of that time has been spent working toward achieving a better understanding among legislators in Washington, D.C., about ways in which Congressional COVID-19 financial stimulus packages can best help the recovery of food and beverage establishments that operate in seasonal tourism settings like ours.

The 800-page CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) stimulus legislation, passed in two parts during April, was intended to support small businesses through loans and grants while they are closed and then re-opened.

However, the language of the legislation is crucial for hospitality operations in places like Hilton Head Island where seasonal tourism is the biggest employer and the driving force of our local economy. And, unfortunately, although well-intended, the early legislation had flaws that could prove detrimental to our area's restaurants and workers.

Many of the problem issues were outlined in an early conference call set up by the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and attended by state Sen. Tim Scott and Sen. Lindsay Graham.

Sen. Scott's office is especially interested in hospitality industry issues. The senator knows that the viability of restaurants and other hospitality companies is critical to the tourism industry along the South Carolina coast.

Fortunately, Sen. Scott and I have a good relationship, and following that initial meeting, I was able to get many of our local restaurant leaders set up with follow-up conversations with his staff to outline their specific concerns.

Multiple nuances of the existing legislative language needed to be ironed out. There were issues like seasonality, recourse or non-recourse debt if the economic recovery lags, deferral of certain tax payments to provide liquidity, and such factors as wages as they relate to tips.

Shortly thereafter, restaurant leaders Andrew Carmines, Clayton Rollison, Alan Wolf, Lee Lucier and Brendan Riley met with me to hash out and coalesce our thoughts in order to present a seven-point plan to the senators that could positively affect legislation as it was still being edited. I was able to get that plan in front of the staff of both Sen. Scott and Sen. Graham, as well as Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.

Other contacts enabled us to also get our ideas in front of National Restaurant Association lobbyists. That organization had been working on similar issues with restaurants in other parts of the nation. The combined thinking ended up being drafted into an eight-point document of recommendations for both the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) in front of both Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

We anticipate the technical corrections to the legislation, as it's being adjusted, will be significant for all restaurant workers who combine to represent approximately 10% of our nation's workforce. I sincerely appreciate the efforts of our passionate local food and beverage industry leaders who helped make this happen. It was a great collaborative effort.

Jeff Bradley is the representative for District 123 in the State House of Representatives.

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