- The Senate passed a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill on Wednesday to bolster the US economy during the coronavirus pandemic.
- After more than three hours of debate, The House passed the bill on Friday afternoon.
- The restaurant industry, which employs 15.6 million people across the US , will take an estimated $225 billion hit because of the outbreak but the new stimulus bill could offer some relief for restaurants.
- The aid package would offer more than $300 billion in loans to small businesses for payroll, mortgage and rent payments, utilities, and other expenses. Some loans could be forgiven.
- The bill, which still needs to be signed into law by President Trump, would also expand unemployment benefits, allowing laid-off workers to claim an extra $600 per week in benefits.
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Businesses are closed indefinitely across the US, a record 3.3 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, and a recession is a near certainty.
The restaurant industry, which employs 15.6 million people in the US , has been hit especially hard. There have been mass layoffs as many of the country's more than one million restaurants have had to either close down or pivot to relying solely on takeout and delivery. The National Restaurant Association estimates the industry will take a $225 billion hit because of the pandemic , and that between five and seven million restaurant workers could lose their jobs by June.
The association's executive vice president of public affairs, Sean Kennedy, said in a statement that the industry still has many challenges ahead, but the bill is "an important first step to help restaurants weather the storm, take care of our employees, and prepare for when we are given the signal to open our doors once again."
The National Restaurant Association and other groups, including the Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC) , have analyzed how the new Senate bill, which still needs to be approved by President Trump, would affect the industry.
More than $300 billion in loans to small businesses
If it becomes law, the bill would establish the "Paycheck Protection Program," which would provide eligible small businesses with government-backed interruption loans to be used for expenses including payroll, mortgage and rent payments, and utilities.
The loans, meant for small businesses with less than 500 employees, are meant to incentivize businesses to keep employees on payroll, according to the IRC. The money could be used to pay for any employee compensation, including the equivalent of cash tips, which many restaurant workers rely on.
The covered period of the loans would be February 15, 2020 to June 30, 2020, and some loans may be forgiven if the business maintains its workforce, according to the IRC.
The maximum loan amount per restaurant is the equivalent of two-and-a-half months' payroll or $10 million, whichever is less.
Restaurants with more than 500 employees per location could also be eligible for a loan if they operate under the North American Industry Classification System code beginning with 72.
To apply for the loans, which would operate directly through financial institutions, restaurants would not need to prove any specific hardship, only make a "good faith certification" of the loan's necessity and that it would be used to retain employees, according to the IRC.
Businesses that continue to employ workers through the coronavirus crisis would receive tax credits and be allowed to defer their payroll taxes so they can keep paying employees, as Business Insider's Jennifer OrtakalesandBartie Scott recently reported.
Nicole Kaeding, the vice president of policy promotion and an economist at the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, told Ortakales and Scott that employers could delay paying payroll taxes for 2020, then pay 50% in 2021 and the other 50% in 2022.
"This is important because it gives small businesses in particular cash flexibility right now," she said. "The tax isn't forgiven, but they don't need to send the federal government a check right now."
However, employers who apply for small-business loans would not receive the tax credit.
An extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits for laid-off restaurant workers
That's a significant boost from the average weekly unemployment-insurance check , which was $385 in January.
"The $600 per week on top of unemployment for our workers is critical," Scott Gerber, CEO of Gerber Group, which owns and operates 10 bars and restaurants across New York City, Washington DC, and Atlanta, told Business Insider.
Unemployment benefits had already been expanded in response to the pandemic ahead of the new proposed stimulus package. On March 18, Congress and President Trump passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act , which expanded benefits and gave grants to states for processing and paying unemployment claims.
The federal government also issued guidance to states to allow more flexibility with granting unemployment benefits to employees who can't go to work because their workplace was shut down, workers who are quarantined, and those who leave work because of a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member.
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