Snyder Pushes Back Against Restaurant Restrictions, Looks to Deliver Relief

CARMICHAELS, Aug. 18 – State Rep. Pam Snyder is pushing back against statewide COVID-19 restrictions placed on indoor dining in restaurants, reaching out to Gov. Tom Wolf and signing onto new legislation to bring quick relief.

"We have to do what we can to make sure that they can keep their heads above water, and whenever this virus is gone, that they will still be here as pillars of our community," Snyder explained. She said that areas with low case counts shouldn't be held to the same 25% indoor capacity restrictions as more populous areas with higher per-capita coronavirus numbers. 

"These establishments have the room to keep patrons safely distant from each other, and the efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 should be on those who aren't following the rules."

After talking with restaurant owners and employees whose livelihoods are at stake, Snyder is signing onto legislation that will roll back the governor's capacity policy. It will allow event venues to hold up 50% of their indoor seating capacity, while implementing the use of applicable CDC guidance. This legislation, she said, would give these already struggling businesses a chance to make ends meet while also mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

While that bill works its way through the legislature, Snyder also wrote a letter to ask Wolf for immediate action, including a return to the original 50% capacity restriction.

Realizing that these mom and pop business owners need additional help, Snyder is co-sponsoring a package of nine bills that would provide grants to local restaurants, bars and clubs, reduce and eliminate specific licensing fees, extend discounts to licensees and protect businesses by guaranteeing their insurance pays out in future emergencies. 

The package includes: 

  • Earmarking Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security grant funding from the federal government to be directed to small, community restaurants instead of national chains to ensure those dollars are invested back into the region.
  • Earmarking CARES grant funding from the federal government for Pennsylvania breweries, distilleries and wineries forced to reduce capacity to protect patrons. Most of these businesses are small and family-operated and help support multiple community efforts, and this funding will help keep them in operation. 
  • Expanding access to outdoor dining for restaurants and diners, including removing limitations concerning public thoroughfares, fees and delays in approval. Scientific evidence is growing that outdoor activity is a much lower risk than indoor dining, and helping restaurants add space outdoors can help them stay open, while giving people an opportunity to get out and enjoy themselves.
  • Waiving the liquor license renewal fee for any bar, restaurant or club that suffered more than a 25% downturn in business due to the virus. The state can wait; the people running the local businesses might not be able to.
  • Increasing the discount for restaurants and bars holding liquor licenses when they purchase wholesale alcohol from 10% to 15%, putting more money back in the pockets of operators to keep their doors open and staff employed.
  • Eliminating the $500 off-premise catering permit fee to allow more restaurants to safely cook food in kitchens and deliver it to safe outdoor locations, as well as remove the March deadline to submit an application to do off-premise catering, and end the 52-event-per-year cap.
  • Eliminating sales tax late payment penalties on restaurants and bars purchasing alcohol from wholesalers and allowing for a repayment grace period when the industry has recovered. 
  • Requiring business insurance policies to pay damages and benefits when a disaster emergency is declared. An insurance policy that doesn’t pay the holder when emergencies arise is worse than no coverage at all -- it’s throwing away money that could have been used to reinvest in the business. When the pandemic hit, many policies invoked an “Act of God” loophole to not pay damages, and our businesses have suffered. 
  • Allowing license holders with licenses in safekeeping relief from paying the license renewal or validation fee for a period of one year. Just a few months ago, many of these businesses were making renovations and improvements that would have put them in a position to remove their license from safekeeping and start operating -- the virus delay shouldn’t stop these entrepreneurs from reinvesting in their communities.

These efforts would provide direct relief to an industry of Pennsylvania businesses the virus has hit hard, Snyder said.