December 11, 2020

Duckworth fighting to keep Illinois restaurants alive through federal relief plan

Source: WREX


SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Restaurant owners across the country are pleading for financial assistance from Capitol Hill. That’s why the Illinois Restaurant Association hosted a town hall discussion Friday with one of their champions – Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois).

Nearly 60% of restaurant owners in Illinois say they’ll have to permanently close their doors in the next four months without federal relief.

“The restaurant food service industry – including restaurants, bars, caterers, and everyone in between – are in need of a bailout,” said IRA President Sam Toia. “Just like the federal government has done before with the airlines, banking, and auto industry…We need a stimulus bill.”

At the very least, Toia argues restaurants need a down payment on relief and another round of PPP. Duckworth hopes to get the RESTAURANTS Act across the finish line before the end of the year. She co-sponsors the plan that could create a $120 billion fund for restaurants and bars significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve already told leadership that I’m not leaving town until we get federal relief out the door,” Duckworth said. “I’m not celebrating Christmas, I’m not going anywhere.”

Duckworth already asked Senate leadership to include key elements of the proposal in any stimulus bill they vote on. Toia emphasized the industry can’t sustain another shutdown without financial relief.

“I also know providing relief to the restaurant industry isn’t just about helping out with your bottom line,” Duckworth said. “It’s about supporting the thousands of service industry workers across the state, while also keeping them safe and protected.”

No money left

Some restaurant owners stress many employees haven’t been able to collect unemployment because of documentation issues. Sam Sanchez, the owner of Third Coast Hospitality, says it’s horrible to watch multiple families moving into one-bedroom apartments.

“It is so emotional to see people call you and ask you can they please come back to work. There’s no money left,” Sanchez said while choking up. “We were obligated to spend the money on our payroll and on rent by a deadline. That left us with no money to continue paying our bills.”

The pandemic has also left many downstate restaurant operators feeling hopeless as well. Karen Conn’s family runs several popular restaurants in Central Illinois. She says there’s a sense that the entire hospitality industry has collapsed.

“Without some form of relief, and that relief being very soon, there’s going to be more small businesses forced to permanently close their doors which is going to lead to more people unemployed,” Conn added.

The Springfield native feels community life as we know it today will suffer long-term effects. The capital city already lost five well known downtown restaurants over the summer.

Erick Williams, the owner and executive chef of Virtue Restaurant in Chicago, had a clear statement for Duckworth to share with her colleagues.

“We’re in dire straights. Being an African- American owner in this city, it has its own set of challenges,” Williams said. “Every single person that we have elected uses our services for fundraisers, for galas, all the way down to simple family functions. It is time for our congressmen and our senators to come together and recognize the community that has been the ladder in their plight. We need you.”

By:  Mike Miletich