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De Blasio launches $3 million program to revitalize restaurants

Posted at 9:40 PM, Jun 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-11 22:35:23-04

NEW YORK — The de Blasio administration is rolling out a multi-million dollar plan to help select small restaurants financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We love the beautiful variety of food in the city but in communities of color, mom and pop restaurants, a community-based restaurant is something much deeper than that," said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In a Thursday morning briefing, the mayor turned things over to his wife to make the announcement. First Lady Chirlane McCray was put in charge of the city's Coronavirus Racial Inclusion and Equity Task Force which the program is borne out of.

It's called the Restaurant Revitalization Program and $3 million has been set aside to assist 100 selected restaurants. The restaurants will be from the 27 neighborhoods hardest hit by the pandemic. Business owners will be eligible for grants of up to $30,000 each. The plan will cover wages for up to 1,000 workers at a wage of $20 per hour for at least six weeks.

Critics say the program only helps a small number of the more than 25,000 restaurants and 300,000 employees citywide. Andrew Rigie is executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, a non-profit that represents eating and drinking establishments throughout the five boroughs.

"Our fear is business owners are financially devastated and you're dangling money in front of their face and they're going to have to agree to stuff they probably would never agree to under any other circumstances," said Rigie.

Rigie says one thing these businesses would have to agree to is the $15 minimum wage within five years. This is on top of tips and is a financial commitment that hurts these businesses in the long run.

"The loss of the tip credit this is a huge issue restaurateurs and workers have," said Rigie. "Do not eliminate the tip credit that would cost $12,000 more to employ a full-time tip employee, restaurants can barely employ anyone right now."

Applicants must also agree to serve a minimum of 500 free meals. Preference will also be given to restaurants that propose to go above this. Rigie says there are just too many strings attached.

"We agree wholeheartedly with the de Blasio administration we need to do everything we possibly can to help workers, to help restaurateurs, but the problem with this program is they have partnered with a special interest group that is very controversial. Any small business owner is going to have to sign up for all of these different requirements that is not feasible."

The group Rigie is speaking of is Restaurants Opportunities Center (ROC). ROC calls for ending the tip credit in New York City.

One Fair Wage is the organization partly funding the Restaurant Revitalization Program. One Fair Wage has also advocated for elimination of the tip credit.

"We need to take the politics out of this and we need to get cash into the pockets of small business owners and workers without having all these strings attached," said Rigie.

For more information on the Restaurant Revitalization Program, visit the city's website.