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Restaurant closures are trickling in as coronavirus threatens sales and foot traffic..

Small businesses look to local governments for economic relief in coronavirus pandemic

Restaurants across the country announce closures, though some temporarily

As reports trickle in of restaurants closing — though in some cases temporarily — around the country in response to coronavirus fears, local lawmakers are stepping up relief efforts for small business owners.

On Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., a federal economic stimulus package to provide financial help to patients, workers and families impacted by the COVID-19 epidemic was reportedly headed for a vote on Thursday, though lawmakers were divided on what the package should include and it’s not clear whether an agreement will be reached before Congress goes on recess next week.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday night reportedly said he would ask Congress to give immediate payroll tax relief, and would instruct the Small Business Administration to provide economic waivers to small businesses "overcome temporary economic disruptions caused by the virus." Trump is seeking an additional $50 billion from Congress for the program.

On the local level, however, economic recovery measures are starting to emerge.

In New York City, for example — where at least four Chinese restaurants have reportedly announced closures — Mayor Bill de Blasio this week said the city will offer no-interest loans to businesses with fewer than 100 employees that have seen sales decrease 25% or more. The loans of up to $75,000 are designed to mitigate losses in profit. In addition, the city is offering small businesses with fewer than five workers a grant to cover 40% of payroll costs for two months, an average of $6,000, to help retain employees.

Seattle has been particularly hard hit. Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday announced a ban on gatherings and events of more than 250 in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties in an effort to contain the virus. 

Restaurants last week were reporting a 40% drop in business, according to the Seattle mayor’s office, and multiple restaurants have reported closures, though some are temporary.

Local 360 Café & Bar, for example, blamed the impact of COVID-19 for its closure this week, though owner Marcus Charles told Eater the closure may not be permanent.

“After all the group dining cancellations this month, accounting for likely impacts to Seattle tourism this summer, possible mandatory quarantine measures, and modeling shorter hours with fewer staff, it became clear that closing entirely is the only current option,” officials posted on the restaurant’s website.

Other Seattle area restaurant closures as a result of coronavirus include Steelhead Diner, District One Saigon (until March 25), and Arriba Cantina.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on Tuesday announced a recovery package to ease the impact of COVID-19 on small businesses. The recovery effort includes five components:

  • Deferral until late 2020 of business and occupation tax collections for business owners with an annual taxable income of $5 million or less and currently pay city taxes on a quarterly basis.
  • Expansion of a small business stabilization fund to support income-qualified microbusinesses, to supplement federal government relief efforts.
  • Assistance to access Small Business Administration loans.
  • Relief for utility payments, allowing businesses to set up a deferred payment plan.
  • The creation of a new small business recovery task force — which includes a number of restaurateurs — to advise on long-term policy recommendations and provide technical assistance and outreach. 

“My administration is looking into every resource at our disposal to help support small businesses during this challenging time. Our small businesses are the economic workhorses of America, particularly in Seattle, where they make up 95% of our establishments and provide nearly 200,000 jobs,” said Durkan in a statement.

Seattle-based Amazon in a blog said it is creating a $5 million Neighborhood Small Business Relief Fund to provide cash grants to area businesses that rely on foot traffic from the tech giant’s workers — many of whom are working remotely during the pandemic.

The fund is intended for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees or less than $7 million in annual revenue that have a physical presence within a few blocks of corporate offices. Applications will be reviewed during the latter half of March, with disbursements expected in April.

In San Francisco, the local Chamber of Commerce has called for an economic recovery package after city officials declared a state of emergency and urged residents to practice “social distancing.” The mayor on Wednesday issued a public health order, prohibiting gatherings of 1,000 or more for two weeks.

The package calls for providing cash flow options for businesses struggling with payroll and rent, and a temporary expansion to unemployment insurance to cover underemployment due to COVID-19.

The chamber also suggested extending the collection date for annual and monthly sales taxes coming due this spring, allowing for deferral to later in the year, as well as a one-year waiver of all city and county business-related fees for storefront small businesses, and lower rates for city-owned venues and associated fees to  help the conference industry recover more quickly.

“With estimates of 50% to 70% cuts in gross receipts for some small businesses in just the first weeks of the outbreak, small business owners are already being faced with difficult decisions,” said Rodney Fong, president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. “Event cancellations through the coming months and the uncertainty affecting the hospitality industry means months of struggling to recover.”

The city’s board of supervisors is reportedly planning to introduce a legislative package this week. San Francisco Mayor London Breed on Wednesday announced a series of measures to help small business, including deferring business taxes and licensing fees, launching a relief fund offering grants of $10,000 each to up to 100 businesses and advocating for state and federal support for workers and businesses.

The city has created a website offering guidance and resources for businesses and workers impacted by COVID-19.

UPDATE: This article has been updated to include new information about White House proposals and business support in San Francisco.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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