Aug 02, 2020
With loan money gone, restaurants are at mercy of coronvirus
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NEW YORK (AP) — The check has arrived and beleaguered restaurant owners across America are looking down on their empty wallets.
Government covronavirus loans in the spring helped eating establishments rehire laid-off employees and ride out the pandemic’s initial surge and wave of shutdown orders.
But that Paycheck Protection Program money has now been spent at many restaurants, leaving them in the same precarious position they were in during outbreak’s early days: Thousands of restaurants are being forced to close down again on mandates from state and local officials combating the virus’s resurgence, particularly in the South and West.
And even in parts of the country where the outbreak appears contained, restaurants’ revenue is far below normal because social distancing requirements — and wary diners — mean fewer tables, fewer customers and limited hours.
John Pepper used a PPP loan to pay employees and reopen four of his eight Boloco restaurants when Massachusetts lifted its shutdown order in early May. But with the money spent and business at the restaurants down as much as 70%, Pepper had to again close two locations. The staff of 125 he had before the virus outbreak is down to 50.
“A lot of this is out of our hands at this point,” Pepper says. “At this moment, I don’t see getting my full payroll back.”
Congress is debating another relief bill that potentially will have more help for small businesses, but even with more loan or grant money, restaurants will remain at the mercy of the virus that has decimated their business.
The virus’s resurgence has prompted officials in California, Texas, Florida and other states to order restaurants shut again. In the Northeast and other parts of the country where infection rates appear more stable, no one expects limits on inside dining to be lifted anytime soon.
Restaurants generally have a low profit margin, between 5% and 6%, and they achieve that only if they have a full house virtually every day, says Sean Kennedy, executive vice president for the trade group National Restaurant Association. They also tend to have only about two weeks of cash on hand, making them highly vulnerable when their sales are down.
“They aren’t designed to have an on-off switch. They’re designed to be used seven days a week, 14 to 15 hours a day at 100% of capacity,” Kennedy says.
Gerry Cea was forced to shut his Miami restaurant, Cafe Prima Pasta, from March into May when the outbreak first began. Now, he has again closed the dining room as local officials try to contain the virus; the Miami/Dade area is one of Florida’s hit hardest by the virus.
Cea is still able to serve customers outside, but the intense South Florida heat and frequent summer rains are limiting him to about 40 diners a night instead of the hundreds he served before the pandemic hit. And Cea is mindful that the peak hurricane season is still to come.
“With the PPP money we received, we were able to pay 48 employees but that has run out now, so we are left with very few alternatives” for funding, Cea says. He’s hoping for more help from the government, even if it’s a loan that must be repaid.
In the meantime, Cea says, “the only reason we are pretty much surviving is because we own the building,” he says.
The pandemic has devastated an industry that expected to have nearly $900 billion in sales this year. Before the outbreak, the Labor Department counted 12 million workers in restaurants and bars, and nearly two-thirds worked at small businesses with fewer than 500 workers. In April, employment in restaurants and bars of all sizes had been cut by nearly half as establishments across the country were closed.
Restaurants were among the small businesses the Paycheck Protection Program was intended to help, but some owners say it was of limited use.
The program so far has given about $42 billion in loans to restaurants, bars and lodging companies. But many restaurants burned through loans quickly because the original terms of the program required them to use the money within eight weeks in order to get loan forgiveness. Many establishments couldn’t reopen but paid staffers not to work anyway. Then when they reopened with revenue limited by social distancing, they couldn’t afford their full payrolls. Congress changed the spending requirement to 24 weeks in early June, but that was too late for many restaurants.
It’s not yet known what small business help will be in any upcoming relief package, although Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has mentioned the possibility that small businesses with big revenue declines could get a second PPP loan.
But restaurants need a long-term solution that addresses their particular needs, Kennedy says. For example, allowing families that get food stamp assistance to use their benefits in restaurants.
“We’re going to be limping along or shutting down altogether” without long-term help, Kennedy says.
Stephanie Williams still hasn’t fully reopened two of her Bennu Coffee shops in Austin, Texas, and continues to operate with curbside service and delivery only; a third location that opened over the weekend does have socially distanced seating. Williams has spent the PPP money she got in early May — she had recalled furloughed workers but with revenue at one store down by half and the other by nearly two-thirds, Williams had to let 20 staffers go again.
“We assumed at the end of eight weeks, this will be over. But here in Texas, things are drastically worse than when we shut down in March,” Williams says. Like other states where the virus is resurgent, Texas saw cases increase after it ended shutdown orders in early May.
Even in areas where the virus appears stable and restaurants can have inside dining, they’re struggling. Wolf’s Ridge Brewing, a Columbus, Ohio, restaurant and brewery, has had to close its dining room and return to takeout and delivery, having used its PPP money and not having enough revenue due to social distancing.
“What the PPP did was put us in a position where we brought people back before we had enough business to support them,” co-founder Bob Szuter says. He’s trying to figure out new ways to bring in revenue, focusing more on the brewery side of the business until it’s safe to have a full dining room.
Jason Brauner’s restaurant, Bourbon Bistro, exhausted its PPP loan, is operating at 50% of capacity and not making enough to cover its expenses. Brauner is worried that the virus’s resurgence will force the Louisville, Kentucky, establishment to close; he had shut completely for two weeks in March before switching to curbside service and then gradually reopened. He’s paid his full staff throughout.
Brauner is hoping to get a grant from the city and he’d welcome another PPP loan. A separate economic injury disaster loan from the SBA give him some breathing room, but also presents a dilemma. Like many restaurant owners, Brauner worries about carrying long-term debt when the future is uncertain.
“I’m almost tempted to give it back,” he says. “We just have to see how it all plays out.”
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Kamala Harris on student-loan forgiveness, Medicare, universal basic income, credit scores — and a tax on trading stocks
Now that she’s been named as Joe Biden’s running mate for the 2020 presidential election, Sen. Kamala Harris’ stances on a wide range of issues are being scrutinized once again.
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he has selected Harris, who hails from California, as his vice-presidential pick in the race against President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
The selection of Harris, 55, is historic. She is the first Black woman and the first person of Asian descent ever named to a presidential ticket by a major political party. She’s only the third woman to be tapped as a vice-presidential nominee by the Democratic or Republican parties, following in the steps of Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin.
Also see:Joe Biden picks Kamala Harris for VP: Here’s how Trump and other politicians are reacting
Harris herself staged a short-lived but notable campaign for the Democratic nomination. She attracted much attention after criticizing Biden for his record on race during the first Democratic debates, but she ended her campaign in December before the first primaries were held.
During her campaign, Harris put forth a wide range of proposals regarding her vision for the country. Here’s what her stance has been on issues ranging from universal basic income to Medicare For All:Student-loan debt and higher education
During her short-lived presidential campaign, Harris joined her competitors Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in releasing a plan aiming to address the $1.5 trillion student-debt problem. The proposal was part of her broader plan to close the black-white gap with regard to jobs in high-paying fields like technology and engineering and entrepreneurship.
Under the Harris proposal, borrowers who received a Pell Grant, the money the government provides to low-income students to attend college, will have up to $20,000 of their student debt forgiven if they start a business and operate it for at least three years in a disadvantaged community. In addition, qualifying borrowers would have their loans deferred interest-free for an up to three-year business formation period.
The plan faced swift backlash on Twitter TWTR, -0.42%, where people argued that accessing forgiveness would be an onerous task. Harris even acknowledged the reaction tweeting, “I want to thank everyone for your feedback and clarify some confusion.”
Harris also proposed making community college free and four-year public colleges debt-free. She said that she would allow borrowers to refinance their loans at lower interest rates and expand the income-driven repayment program, which allows borrowers to repay their loans as a percentage of their income.
For-profit colleges have had a formidable adversary in Harris. She has said that the U.S. should get rid of them, and as California attorney general her office was a $1 billion-plus judgment against the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges after uncovering fraud at the college chain.Affordable housing
Last July, Harris’ presidential campaign released an extensive plan aimed at increasing the homeownership rate in black communities. The plan called for earmarking $100 billion for federal grants that would help with down payments or closing costs for families who rent or live in historically redlined communities
Harris also called for the strengthening of anti-discrimination laws to prevent discrimination in home sales, rentals and mortgage lending.
Harris’ legislative record also points to her stance with regard to the high cost of housing nationwide. Together with Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California, she authored the Housing Is Infrastructure Act. The bill would set aside $100 billion for affordable housing — the bulk of which ($70 billion) would be used to pay for needed repairs and upgrades to the nation’s stock of federally subsidized housing, including flood mitigation projects.
“ Harris introduced the Rent Relief Act, which would create a refundable tax credit for households who make less than $100,000 a year. ”
Harris also introduced the Rent Relief Act, which would create a refundable tax credit for households who make less than $100,000 a year (or $125,000 in pricier areas) and spend at least 30% of their income on housing costs.
Harris faced criticism over her handling of foreclosure-related issues during her time as California attorney general. Some have argued that she should have sued OneWest Bank, which was at the time run by now-Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, for foreclosing against thousands of homeowners in California. Harris told the San Francisco Chronicle her office didn’t have the legal ability to do this “because of the way the rules were written in favor of the banks in terms of our subpoena powers as the state attorney general.”Medicare For All (or more people)
Last July, Harris released a plan to provide “comprehensive health insurance that covers every American.” The way she planned to achieve that? By expanding Medicare.
Unlike Bernie Sanders, though, Harris did not envision achieving this goal by taxing families making under $100,000. Instead, she planned to pay for “Medicare For All” by taxing Wall Street.
Her plan called for a 0.2% tax on stock trades, a 0.1% tax on bond trades and a 0.002% tax on derivative transactions. She claimed these taxes would raise more than $2 trillion over the course of a decade. Critics of the plan argued that taxing financial transactions in this way could make it harder for Americans to build retirement savings.Credit scores
As part of her broader plan to improve the black homeownership rate, Harris proposed an amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The amendment would require credit-reporting agencies to include payments of rent, cellphone bills and utilities when calculating credit scores.
The proposal was meant to expand the realm of people who can get credit scores. Data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggest that an estimated 26 million people are “credit invisible” and another 19 million are said to have “unscorable” files.
When the proposal was released, FICO FICO, -1.79% noted that credit scores have always been designed to consider telecommunications and utilities payments since they were first released in 1989. The issue, according to Joanne Gaskin, vice president of scores and analytics at FICO, is one of data collection.
FICO relies on consumer data pulled by the major credit reporting agencies — Experian EXPN, +0.54%, Equifax EFX, -0.10% and TransUnion TRU, +1.95%. Until now, the agencies have struggled to collect “alternative” data for most consumers, Gaskin told MarketWatch last year.Universal basic income
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang made a universal basic income policy his cause celebre on the campaign trail during the race for the Democratic nomination. Harris didn’t necessarily propose her own version of universal basic income, but she did put forth the LIFT the Middle Class Act.
The legislation would give large refundable tax credits of up to $500 a month or $6,000 a year to families earning less than $100,000 annually. Single filers who earn below $50,000 annually could get up to $3,000 a year.
Andrea Riquier contributed to this story.