COVID-19 has taken a severe toll on restaurants and bars. In an effort to aid these businesses, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez has cosponsored the Restaurants Act, which, if enacted, would provide $120 billion in federal relief for local food service, drinking establishments and caterers that have suffered financial losses due to COVID-19.

Funding through the grant program will be calculated based on revenue losses between 2019 and 2020 and can be used to cover payroll up to each worker’s annual salary of $100,000, as well as benefits, mortgage, rent, utilities, maintenance, supplies, inventory, debt obligations to suppliers and other eligible expenses. 

Publicly-traded companies or chains with 20 or more locations are excluded from the grant program to ensure the funding is directed to smaller, independently owned establishments.

“The social distancing and stay-at-home orders necessary to contain the spread of the virus helped flatten the curve and prevent our health system from being overrun, but the economic fallout has caused enormous pain all around,” said Menendez. “Many local restaurants, bars and catering halls have been forced to close. Workers have been laid off or furloughed. Even those establishments that were able to quickly shift to delivery, takeout or outdoor dining are still in the red. 

“New Jersey’s normally bustling restaurant and hospitality industry helps drive the economy in our local communities,” he added. “The Restaurants Act will help give them the financial relief many need to stay open, keep people employed and drive our economic recovery.”

Recently, the state eased restrictions on indoor dining, but is only allowing 25 percent capacity. Even with many establishments reopening, employment in the industry nationwide is down 3.1 million since February, notes a press release from Menendez’s office. In April alone, the release points out, 5.5 million restaurant workers lost their jobs, accounting for 27 percent of all job losses that month.

“We appreciate Sen. Menendez’s support of both the Restaurant Act legislation and the restaurant industry,” said Marilou Halvorsen, president of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association. “This legislation is critical in helping small businesses across New Jersey and the country. The closures of restaurants have impacted both restaurant owners and employees.

“Also, restaurants are the backbone of every community.”