New Orleans Announces Eased Restrictions in its Modified Phase 2 Guidelines Due to Sustained Decrease in COVID Cases
The City of New Orleans today announced that new COVID-19 guidelines will go into effect on Friday, Feb. 26 – increasing gathering size limits to 75 indoors and 150 outdoors, respectively; raising table limits to 15; and increasing indoor stadium capacity to 15% and outdoor stadium capacity to 25%.
The past 30 days have shown a sustained decrease in case counts, transmission rate, and positivity rate, allowing for further easing of some restrictions. COVID-19 metrics remain low; case counts are around 50 cases per day, the positivity rate remains under 2%, and the transmission rate is well below 1.0.
For those reasons, the New Orleans Health Department is updating the City of New Orleans Modified Phase Two guidelines, which will go into effect Friday, Feb 26, at 6 a.m.:
Social distancing and masking guidelines remain the same in these settings. These changes further align the City’s guidelines with the State of Louisiana Modified Phase Two emergency order.
To view COVID-19 data trends in Orleans Parish, visit ready.nola.gov/data and to read more about guidelines, visit ready.nola.gov/restrictions.
Association policy team sees opportunities related to immigration reform and infrastructure improvements.
National Restaurant Association policy experts say they’re optimistic about working with the Biden Administration to help small businesses, including restaurants and retail operations, start recovering from the devastating impact of the pandemic.
Shannon Meade, vice president of Public Policy and Legal Advocacy, indicated there are legislative and regulatory opportunities within the areas of immigration reform, infrastructure improvements and skills training.
Here’s a look at what’s happened and what’s to come:
December stimulus helped, but industry needs moreBack in December, when Congress passed the $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill, it included a second draw of the Paycheck Protection Program, the 100% forgivable loan ensuring that qualified business owners would have enough access to capital to continue operating.
It also included a tax-deductibility piece allowing restaurants and other businesses to deduct expenses paid with PPP loans, like payroll, rent and mortgage interest, and utilities, and extended employee-retention and work opportunity tax credits. The business meal deduction was reinstated, as well.
The policy team viewed December’s stimulus as a “down payment,” and anticipates more will get done once the new administration and congress are fully in place.
RESTAURANTS Act takes center stage in 2021This year, the priority is passage of the reintroduced RESTAURANTS Act, the industry-specific $120 billion grant program the Association called for in its first Blueprint for Recovery in March 2020. Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) are the sponsors of the bipartisan legislation. Hopefully, $25 billion of RESTAURANTS Act is included in the Administration’s next round of relief.
The Association also advocated for the FEMA Empowering Essential Deliveries (FEED) Act. Recently mandated by executive action, the federal government will now pay 100% of the cost for states and localities to partner with restaurants and nonprofits who prepare and deliver meals to vulnerable populations, such as seniors and at-risk youth. The bill’s supporters include Vice President Kamala Harris and Chef José Andrés.
Administration’s economic recovery plan is main eventThe President’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, which awaits passage, could kick start the anemic U.S. economy and bolster industries such as foodservice and hospitality that have lost billions of dollars in revenue and millions of employees over the last year. The restaurant industry alone estimates losses at more than $240 billion.
“President Biden’s primary focus is on the pandemic, making sure vaccines are distributed and that the process is streamlined, but he also is focusing on a two-part economic recovery plan,” Meade says.
The first part is the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan; the second is the Build Back Better recovery plan, which the President could unveil at or around the State of the Union address.
The American Rescue Plan features:
Meade says increasing the minimum wage now would only create more economic pain for employers trying to recover their losses, and for employees looking for jobs.
“Calling for such a dramatic increase in the federal minimum wage at this time, in the midst of a pandemic when businesses are reeling, doesn’t make for good public policy,” she says.
There also might be challenges related to the administration’s regulatory agenda, particularly if it restores Obama-era regulations related to Joint Employer and Overtime rules, she adds.
Efforts that could impact workplace policies include:
Still, she notes, opportunities are in sight. They include:
“There are going to be some key pieces we endorse and fully support, including workforce development initiatives,” she says. “A lot needs to be done in the aftermath of COVID-19—our registered apprenticeships, second chance hiring, and immigration reform. There’s a tremendous opportunity to get some of our immigration priorities resolved and make some great progress.”
The act of reinventing oneself can be a harrowing endeavor under the best of circumstances. Having such a chore forced upon you, by powers beyond your control, only serves to complicate the matter. Restaurants around the world have been forced to pivot in ways incomprehensible just a short time ago. Our communities have lost a lot as a result of the pandemic, but we continue to forge ahead, determined to reconnect with the people and places we once cherished. Louisiana folks know this task all too well. We've been forced to claw our way out of treacherous circumstances more times than I care to revisit.
This one is different, let's admit that. The loss of life and the preservation of property is not a condition we often deal with. At times, it seems nothing has been destroyed, but everything is ruined.
The Acme Oyster House family and the Louisiana Restaurant Association have a long-standing relationship. Members of the Acme family have represented the LRA in many ways, for many years. The ROI related to that investment has never been more evident. The work of the LRA on our state's behalf has been tremendously enlightening during this pandemic. The regular and concise communication as a result of these efforts has created an opportunity for our organization to focus on our customers, employees, business practices and safety protocols. During times like this, you take stock. You count your allies, find the 'holes in your boat' and get to work. The team at the LRA has served as a sentinel of the highest regard while tirelessly communicating with state and federal legislators on behalf of the nearly 10,000 restaurants in our state. I know that I speak for the entire Acme family as I thank the LRA team for their dedication.
I look forward to serving as the Northshore Chapter President for the coming year. I pray that we'll be able to share a meal and pass a good time very soon.
LRA Northshore Chapter President
Acme Oyster House
Stan Harris, LRA president and CEO, weighs in on the tax law changes that could provide restaurants with big credits.
One of the good things about December’s COVID-19 relief package—beside the fact that it provided another round of Payroll Protection Program largely focused on small businesses—is that it fixed or improved some aspects of earlier bills.
One of these issues is the Employee Retention Tax Credit.
“The ERTC in its current version is far more appealing,” says Stan Harris, president and CEO, Louisiana Restaurant Association. “The first structure of ERTC was used by those operators who chose not to seek PPP, or who had adequate capital or lines of credit.” The new version, he says, lets operators take advantage of both the ERTC and a PPP loan, if they get the timing right.
December’s Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act includes several changes and improvements to the ERTC that can help you keep employees on staff after you’ve run through PPP loan money.
Now, if you’re eligible, you can access ERTC for up to $5,000 per eligible employee for a calendar quarter in 2020, and up to $7,000 per eligible employee per quarter in 2021 from January 1, 2021 through June 30, 2021.
Here are the highlights:
Eligible restaurants. Restaurants with 100 or fewer full-time employees can access the ERTC for employees working in 2020. Companies with 500 or fewer full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) can access the ERTC for those employees working in 2021. The tax credits are only available for payroll wages and/or group benefits you didn’t pay directly with PPP loan funds. Your employer status (small or large) is based on the aggregate number of FTEs you employed in 2019.
Eligible employees. FTEs are those who work at least 30 hours per week or 130 hours a month.
If you first opened in 2019, calculate the number by taking the sum of the number of FTEs in each full calendar month your restaurant was open in 2019 and divide by that number of months.
If you first opened in 2020, use the same approach to calculate your FTEs.
Eligible circumstances. Since lawmakers intended this as pandemic relief, you can only get the ERTC if 1) your operation was partially or fully suspended by governmental authority due to COVID-19 (including capacity restrictions due to social distancing, closure of indoor dining, or closure of all on-site dining); or 2) your business experienced a significant decline in sales when comparing a calendar quarter (or prior quarter) to its matching quarter in 2019.
Eligible wages. Qualified wages are defined by IRS Code in section 3121(a) and section 3231(e). You can include group health plan expenses, such as monthly insurance premiums, which will come as a relief to many restaurants who continue to support their staff. “Even during economic hardship, restaurants have been maintaining health benefits to ensure their employees have access to their medical providers and prescription drugs throughout the pandemic,” said Clinton Wolf, senior vice president of Health & Insurance Services at the National Restaurant Association.
And remember, you can’t apply for the credit for a quarter in which you used PPP loan funds to directly pay wages. But if you exhausted PPP loan money by say, September last year, you could apply the ERTC to eligible employees for the fourth quarter of 2020.
ERTC advances. To apply for advance payment of employee retention credits, fill out IRS Form 7200.
The article “Big tax credits to restaurants could support employee retention” has more examples. And download and share our detailed ERTC explainer.
Resources are available for restaurant operations employees with children when either the parent or child faces a health crisis, medical diagnosis, injury, death, or natural disaster through an industry non-profit, CORE: Children of Restaurant Employees.
Documentation is required and they may be able to help provide financial support and cover expenses such as rent/mortgage, utilities, basic necessities and other medical related costs. For more information or to apply, visit: www.COREgives.org A family can also be referred online if you know a team member that may qualify.
National Restaurant Association Sends Blueprint for State and Local Restaurant Recovery to Lawmakers
The National Restaurant Association today sent a Blueprint for State and Local Restaurant Recovery to the National Governors Association, the United States Conference of Mayors, and the National Council of State Legislators, encouraging their members to act on the proposal.
“State and local lawmakers have the chance to make a real difference in their local industry’s survival,” said Mike Whatley, National Restaurant Association vice president for State Affairs and Grassroots Advocacy, in the letter. “Restaurants are the largest employer in many states and cities, and decisive action on recovery by local leaders will be a critical part of our future. As states and localities begin new legislative sessions, we encourage lawmakers to take action that will help restaurants survive the winter and the pandemic.”
The State Blueprint includes 11 detailed steps lawmakers can take, including:
Read the full letter here and review the Association’s federal Blueprint for Restaurant Revival here.
For more information about the Association’s advocacy, go to RestaurantsAct.com.
The City of New Orleans announced new COVID-19 guidelines will go into effect at 6 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 19, allowing bars and breweries to resume indoor service at 25% of their permitted occupancy.
Since the City eased restrictions and reentered a Modified Phase Two on Jan. 29, 2021, the case counts, positivity rate, and transmission rate in New Orleans have all decreased, allowing for further easing of some restrictions. In line with the State of Louisiana emergency order, bars and breweries will be allowed to operate indoors at 25% capacity as long as the positivity rate in Orleans Parish remains below 5%. Bars can only be open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., per state proclamation.
Recent local and national cases of the UK, South African, and Brazilian variant strains of SARS-COV-2 continue to cause concern for local public health officials. Therefore, the current limit on gathering sizes for parties, special events, weddings, etc., will remain as is – indoor gatherings limited 10 people and outdoor gatherings limited to 25 with masking and social distancing required in both settings.
These Modified Phase Two guidelines will be in place for a minimum of three weeks beginning Feb. 19, 2021, at 6 a.m.
To view COVID-19 data trends in Orleans Parish, visit ready.nola.gov/data and to read more about guidelines, visit ready.nola.gov/restrictions.
The National Restaurant Association released the findings of a nationwide survey of restaurants large and small – asking what impact passage of the Raise the Wage Act would have on their ability to recover this year. The Association sent a letter to congressional leaders citing the survey results to urge that the measure be removed from the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan.
“Passage of this bill this year would lead to job losses and higher use of labor-reducing equipment and technology,” said Sean Kennedy, executive vice president for Public Affairs for the National Restaurant Association. “Nearly all restaurant operators say they will increase menu prices. But what is clear is that raising prices for consumers will not be enough for restaurants to absorb higher labor costs.”
Highlights of the survey findings in the letter include:
The Raise the Wage Act would increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, more than double the current $7.25 an hour, over five years. It also eliminates a separate minimum wage for tipped workers. Most tipped servers make between $19-$25 per hour under the current tipped credit system.
To assess the potential impact of a proposed increase in the federal minimum wage, the National Restaurant Association conducted a survey of 2,000 restaurant operators February 2-9, 2021.