Two of Gov. Tom Wolf’s latest restrictions on restaurant and venue industries put hundreds of thousands of people out of work and caused countless businesses to close.
In July, Wolf limited indoor events and gatherings to 25 people – regardless of the venue’s capacity – and outdoor events and gatherings to 250 people. Staff are included in the maximum occupancy limit, which further decreases the number of guests who can attend an event.
At about the same time, Wolf also greatly reduced the capacity limits for restaurants to 25%, down from 50%, and closed all bars that do not serve food. His agencies also created confusion when they backtracked from allowing alcohol to be served with any food purchase to requiring the food be a meal as defined by the administration.
Sadly, so many restaurants have had to close, either temporarily or permanently, because of these overreaching restrictions. Restaurants closing will have a major impact on our local economy. In the Commonwealth, the restaurant industry made $27.5 billion in sales in 2019 and accounted for 582,800 jobs, or 10% of the state’s jobs. Locally, the restaurant industry is Adams County’s top industry in terms of the number of people it employs, and it is the second highest employer in Cumberland County.
My office saw an uptick in calls from residents seeking help with unemployment benefits after the restrictions were imposed. In fact, 91% of restaurateurs have laid off or furloughed workers since March because of the administration’s COVID-19 response, leaving about 332,000 employees out of work. About 86% of restaurant operators say it is unlikely their businesses will be profitable in the next six months.
To help prevent further job loss and to get people back to work, I co-sponsored House Bill 2513 to give establishments the option to utilize 50% of their indoor seating capacity. Another piece of legislation I am supporting is House Bill 2753 to waive all late fees and penalties as long as sales taxes for restaurants, bars and taverns are paid by the end of the year.
I also co-sponsored House Bill 2783
to waive all 2021 license renewal and permit fees for any liquor licensee holding a club, restaurant, hotel or eatery license and can demonstrate they lost more than 25% in sales as a result of the restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 disaster emergency.
To assist the venue and events industry, I co-sponsored a bill to allow them to safely operate at 50% capacity. Under the legislation, venues, caterers and other businesses would still need to adhere to social distancing standards per the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I look forward to this legislation being introduced and hope it is swiftly taken up by the House.
I believe, and have shown during visits with local restaurants, that these establishments can operate safely while serving larger numbers of customers. It is time for the governor to lift his restrictions on restaurants and venues so people can get back to work and to prevent additional harm to our economy.
It is important to understand that my role as a state representative does not allow me to unilaterally roll back the governor’s mandates with the swipe of pen. Instead, we as legislators – as outlined in the state Constitution – speak and advocate through legislation. I cannot always control whether the governor will approve or veto a bill, but I can put the positions and values that are important to my constituents on his desk where he will be forced to make and defend his decision publicly.
Representative Torren Ecker
193rd Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Greg Gross