MAIN STREET IS TOO BIG TO FAIL: FL RESTAURANT INDUSTRY NEEDS ECONOMIC DISASTER RELIEF NOW

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Dear Gov. DeSantis,

We appreciate the challenges and decisions you are faced with in confronting the COVID-19 crisis. We recognize your highest priority is to keep our communities safe with school closures and enforce all necessary preventative measures, while working with municipalities and localities as the number of confirmed cases rise. As we face this public health crisis together as a nation, we, a coalition of business owners, are writing today on behalf of the 1.1 million employees in the food and beverage industry in the state of Florida that are facing certain detrimental economic impact.

Small business owners represent a significant collective voice within the larger restaurant and hospitality industry. We play an important role in the daily life of Floridians and are a vital part of the cultural landscape of the state. Eating and drinking venues statewide totaled 41,366 in 2018, with over 1,096,000 employees, and generated over $50 billion in annual sales. We understand that losing any portion of this revenue would be a hard hit to the local, state and national economies, however, by not taking immediate measures to stabilize the situation there could be much greater costs in the permanent closing of businesses leaving hundreds of thousands of Florida restaurant and hospitality wage-earners unemployed.

WE NEED TO KNOW WE HAVE SUPPORT FOR OUR BUSINESSES DURING AND AFTER THIS PUBLIC CRISIS.  Many bars across the state have now been closed, numerous restaurants have shuttered for fear of putting the health of staff and customers at risk, and many operators have been told by their local government officials to close dining outside of takeout. Operators are genuinely concerned about the future of their businesses, while striving to be strong community partners in prevention efforts. We respectfully ask that you consider the following requests below concerning local, state and national assistance that will help our businesses survive (whether we are serving guests or not), thus ensuring our employees have jobs available to them when this situation subsides.

Many business owners are already carrying a significant debt burden. In order to continue operations after this crisis, we need immediate assistance and action from the local government, the State of Florida, the Federal Government, and insurance carriers. The proposals of loan programs we’ve seen thus far administered by the SBA will simply not suffice, and those offered as Emergency Relief by the State are too expensive and will burden already troubled businesses.

We recognize that some of these requests typically may have legislative requirements and limitations and some can be implemented or enacted immediately. Our need is urgent now, thus immediate action is necessary. We submit these requests in the spirit of offering creative solutions and meaningful financial resources that will provide a needed lifeline to our to our struggling businesses today.

LOCAL ACTION:

1.     Suspend Local sales tax to consumers on all hospitality and food service industries statewide, including prepared foods at restaurants and bars.

2.     Defer all city business and licensing fees for one year including Department of Business & Professional Regulation food and alcohol renewals.

3.     Defer all city taxes on small businesses, including any local real estate or personal property taxes.

STATE ACTION:

1.     Provide employers with a 60-day extension of time to file their State sales tax reports and re-employment tax reports beginning with the February 2020 period, and throughout the duration of the pandemic, as well as depositing State sales taxes and re-employment taxes without penalty or interest. 

2.     Suspend State sales tax to consumers on all hospitality and food service industries statewide, including prepared foods at restaurants and bars.

3.     Improve The Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan program requiring emergency funds to be paid back at 0%-6% over 18-24 months versus 12% over 12 months-- improving a program that could create additional hardship on recovering businesses.

4.     Place a moratorium on commercial evictions after March 15, 2020 for the duration of the administrative action, pandemic and recovery period (defined as three months after an all clear from Federal and State agencies has been issued).

5.     Provide commercial rent and mortgage relief. A subsidy to business owners or credit to property owners to mitigate this cost burden for business owners, or a recommendation that no commercial rent, lease payments, mortgage or contract payments be required or enforceable during the duration of the administrative closure or period of reduced sales, during the pandemic or recovery period (defined as three months after an all clear from Federal and State agencies has been issued).

6.     Work with federal lawmakers to significantly increase funding for public health and economic development, while facilitating rules and regulations that could provide relief to businesses and workers impacted by COVID-19.

7.     Mandate insurance companies doing business in Florida to include / add “epidemic, “pandemic” and “public official’s or government order” to all business interruption policies underwritten prior to 3/15/2020, and enforce that business interruption benefits be extended during the pandemic or recovery period (defined as three months after an all clear from Federal and State agencies has been issued) to all existing commercial policy holders.

8.     Defer all State business and licensing fees for one year including Department of Business & Professional Regulation food and alcohol renewals.

9.     Defer all State taxes on small businesses, including any real estate or personal property taxes.

10.  Ensure that all restaurant and bar workers receive enhanced Unemployment Insurance benefits for the duration of the pandemic response, with an increase from the maximum benefit of 50% of average earnings to 100% of average earnings to a maximum of $500 per week. The waiting week and requirement to look for work is also suspended, and that Unemployment Insurance benefits are expedited to avoid the typical 3-4 week waiting period for payments to begin. Additionally, we request that an emergency rule for Unemployment Insurance is issued for the duration of the pandemic response that will provide coverage if a worker is:

a.     Mildly ill with COVID-19

b.     Exposed to COVID-19 and quarantined no matter the status of business operation

c.     Immune compromised and advised to self-quarantine

d.     Without work because their employer shut down due to a public official’s order

e.     Without work because of a business slow down or lack of demand

11.  Guarantee that individuals who are unable to work due to having or being exposed to COVID-19 can file an expedited disability insurance claims.

STATE AND NATIONAL ACTION:

1.     Create a grant program providing emergency funds for businesses with fewer than 150 employees, who have seen sales decreases of 25 percent or more, in-order-to help mitigate losses in revenues and profit and increase financial stability.

2.     Create a grant program for companies with fewer than 150 employees to provide financial assistance specifically to meet the needs of employer-sponsored health care coverage for employees, and/or suspend / waive payments for health care for 90 days for both employees and employers.

3.     Establish a task force to convene large banks, financial associations, utility companies, telecoms, and major employers to identify opportunities to provide relief such as debt and late penalty forgiveness, bill deferment or suspension of businesses temporarily closed during the pandemic, providing no-interest recovery loans and waiving fees for companies and workers negatively impacted by COVID-19.

We ask that you act now.  Our industry, our state and our nation have overcome adversity before; armed with the right tools, we can do it again.