December 4, 2022

How Small Restaurants Leveraged Their Pain to Win Stimulus Money

The coalition’s political strategy was to leverage its members’ public profiles and community connections to compensate for what they lacked in political clout. News-media interviews with group leaders, including the chefs Tom Colicchio, Kwame Onwuachi and Andrew Zimmern, highlighted the economic impact of independent restaurants and bars, which, according to research commissioned by the coalition, employ 11 million people and support another five million jobs in related businesses.

“They are such a vital part of our economy, not only with the restaurant jobs, but the supply chain,” said Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, an early champion of the Restaurants Act. “I don’t think it dawned on people that the reach extends as far as it does.”

Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus Package

Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read more

This credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax Accounting. Read more.

There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.

Mr. St. John’s relationship with Mr. Wicker, a regular at his restaurants, was crucial in winning early support for the coalition’s cause among Senate Republicans. In the end, no Republican in either house voted for the larger stimulus bill. But the bipartisan support for independent restaurants positions the coalition to become an influential voice in Washington.

Representative Earl Blumenauer, Democrat of Oregon, said the coalition’s priority is now ensuring that the fund functions as intended. He cited the Paycheck Protection Program, which was ill-suited to the needs of many small restaurateurs, as a cautionary tale.

“We don’t want a situation where people with more lawyers and accountants and connections get in there and soak up all the money,” said Mr. Blumenauer, who introduced the Restaurants Act in the House last year. “That was part of the problem with the P.P.P.”

Bobby Stuckey, an owner of Frasca Food Wine, in Boulder, Colo., used skills developed in high-end restaurant dining rooms to become one of the coalition’s most effective influencers. He discovered he had a powerful network of contacts dating back to his days as a sommelier at the Little Nell, in Aspen, and the French Laundry, in Napa Valley.

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