County Council approves program to help restaurants

COVID-19-related issues were served up at the Oct. 6 meeting of the Pierce County Council, which saw the council establish a new program aimed at keeping local restaurants open during the pandemic.

Washington state has lost more than 48,000 restaurant jobs since February 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Restaurant Association. The latter organization further reports Census data indicates restaurant revenue is down more than $148 billion from expected March through August revenue.

“The proposal creates a program that will provide financial support to local full-service restaurants in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” council senior legislative analyst Hugh Taylor said.

With the goal of preserving local jobs and encouraging restaurants to fill empty tables, the council dedicated $7.5 million from its federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security allocation to create a program offering a 30 percent discount to dine-in customers, excluding alcohol purchases. The 30 percent discount is available to customers eating at eligible restaurants during a two-week promotional window.

Licensed restaurants in operation before March 23, 2020, that continue to operate and be open to the public, and are designated as full-service restaurants, are eligible. Full service means a restaurant at which wait staff deliver food and drink from a printed menu to patrons at tables or booths.

The total amount of funding available to each restaurant cannot exceed $90,000. During the two-week promotional period, eligible restaurants can receive compensation up to 50 percent of gross sales for dine-in meals, excluding alcohol, for each day. No participating restaurants will receive less than $5,000.

Businesses wishing to participate in the program as established by the emergency ordinance must enter into a written agreement with Pierce County and at a minimum meet the following criteria:

* Operate in accordance with the state’s “Safe Start” reopening plan and applicable federal, state and local public health guidance and directives;

* Participate in the full-service restaurant promotion campaign outlined in the ordinance, Proposal No. 2020-105;

* Provide all restaurant patrons with at least a 30 percent discount on dine-in meal purchases, excluding alcohol, during the two-week promotional period specified in the agreement unless modified by the local health officer; and

* Provide documentation of gross sales of dine-in meals, excluding alcohol, and the value of discounts given for each eligible day during the two-week promotional period.

Should the local health officer determine it is unsafe for restaurants to offer dine-in service due to increasing COVID-19 case transmissions, the 30 percent discount can apply to take-out meals during the two-week promotional period.

Councilmember Marty Campbell expressed hope the program could be expanded beyond full-service restaurants.

“Not everything fits the same model, and I hope we can be as flexible as we can to allow as many in as possible and be as liberal in our interpretations as to who is eligible because I think that, in the end, all the businesses need this opportunity to have this lifeline to survive,” he said.

The aforementioned CARES Act funding was reallocated in a separate emergency ordinance to provide additional assistance to veterans and county residents negatively impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Proposal No. 2020-106 provides:

* $5 million to the existing residential rental assistance program;

* 4 million to the existing Commercial Rent and Mortgage Assistance Program;

* $1 million to the existing childcare program; and

* $1 million to the existing veteran assistance program.

The contingency reserve account previously had $23,162,031. With the reallocation, the remaining contingency fund balance is just over $4.6 million.

The council also earmarked $50,000 in CARES Act funds previously dedicated to Public Health Emergency Response for Rainier Communications Commission to hire a consultant to negotiate a new agreement to step up public health outreach to populations especially vulnerable to COVID-19.


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