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Hospitality, restaurant trade groups call for industry relief package

Industry trade groups are calling on state officials to enact a relief package to support Pennsylvania’s restaurants in the wake of the Wolf administration’s tightening of restrictions on business operations.

Gov. Tom Wolf last week ordered bars and restaurants to limit indoor capacity to 25%, down from 50%, and prohibit serving alcoholic beverages unless patrons dine in.

The Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association (PLBTA) said the restrictions were a return to a “virtual yellow phase,” hampering the efforts of an already beleaguered industry that’s trying to regain its footing after mandated business closure and stay-at-home orders.

Restaurants have been especially hard hit by the pandemic, said Chuck Moran, executive director of the PLBTA, due to slim profit margins and dependence on social gatherings to generate revenue. Moran said the industry is much at the mercy of state authorities since a significant portion of revenue coming from state-issued licenses, which could be revoked for failing to comply with operational restrictions.

“State government needs to recognize the social and economic value of our community-based taverns and licensed restaurants and provide them with support to avoid the permanent loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs,” Moran said.

Wolf urged Congress to pass a bipartisan bill, sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, that would provide $120 billion to help restaurants weather the economic challenges of the pandemic.

Legislation proposed at the state level has been identified by the PLBTA and the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association as potential life rafts for restaurants.

  • House Bill 2615, sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery County, would create a Community Cornerstone Grant Program to provide grants to small business restaurants and taverns to assist with COVID-19-related business losses and other expenses, including costs associated with innovations to accommodate health and safety guidelines.
  • Senate Bill 1194, or similar legislation, would provide limited civil immunity from liability for bars, taverns and restaurants that attempt, in good faith, to adhere to the provisions of the COVID-19 emergency declaration, the governor’s COVID-19 Business Closure Order or any other executive order relating to COVID-19, or any guidance issued by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, the Department of Health or the Secretary of Health.

Justin Henry is the regional reporter for the Central Penn Business Journal and the Lehigh Valley Business. He can be reached at jhenry@bridgetowermedia.com.

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