AUSTIN, Texas - On Thursday, the US Department of Labor announced that 22 million American workers are now unemployed. Many people are struggling to file for unemployment benefits and are unable to obtain small business loans.
The "National Restaurant Association" estimates more than 60 percent of Texas restaurant employees have been laid off or furloughed since the beginning of the pandemic. Nationwide, it is estimated that one out of three restaurant jobs have been lost.
Restaurants reported to the National Restaurant Association an average decline in sales of 70 percent from April 1 to April 10. 96 percent of Texas restaurants also reported a decrease in sales dollar volume during that same time period.
Six percent of Texas restaurants anticipate permanently closing within the next thirty days.
“‘I’m not insensitive to you know, the virus and everything else. But, at the same time you can’t tell people to choose death or homelessness.” said Jennifer Bailey a hairstylist at “Creative Cuts” in Killeen who has been out of work since the salon closed on March 24.
She is considered self-employed, which makes filing for unemployment more difficult. Her attempts thus far have been unsuccessful. She places hundreds of calls each day to a busy line. “You took my job away but then you’re not giving me the income that I’ve been promised, I’ve paid taxes for twenty years,” she said.
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As a small business, her company was eligible for a government loan, but last Thursday the government announced the Paycheck Protection Program was out of money.
“‘I’m honestly not surprised,' she said.”
With two adult daughters, and her mother living at home, Bailey believes she should be allowed to go back to work with restrictions in place -- such as limited clients, masks, and strict sanitization procedures.
“There’s some people that are really, really hurting financially. And if you’re sitting at home and you’re getting a check I don’t think you can really question what we want, because you’re not in the same boat.”
“One of the hardest things was just having no notice,” said Sue Davis, owner of East Austin vegan restaurant Counter Culture.
Davis said the restaurant makes “pretty much everything from scratch and we use a lot of produce.” She said the restaurant tried using “to-go” for one day but “I just realized with my overhead and my staff it just wasn’t going to work. It’s a whole different model of business we’re just not set up for it.”
On March 18, the restaurant closed. “We went from ‘this weekend's a little slow, you know prep a little less’ to ‘let's close.’”
Davis says staff “raided the refrigerators,” and had a nacho party, before they had to part ways. They have had to file for unemployment. A GoFundMe has also been started link. All the money raised goes to employees. The restaurant also received a small business grant from Bumble.
“It almost pays for rent for one month. I still have utilities, we’re able to turn some things off you know my selected refrigerator is on, things like that.” Davis explained. The self-proclaimed “server” says the restaurant is not currently in danger of closing “if this just lasts a few months we’ll be fine.”
A week and a half ago Davis says she was notified that the business was accepted for a Paycheck Protection Program SBA loan, but she still hasn’t seen any money. If the business does receive the loan she says she could re-hire her staff and revisit food to-go.
“To-go’s not going to generate enough revenue to pay for bills and staffing, but the PPP would supplement the payroll and then we could definitely be open and maybe look to donate food to healthcare workers,” she explained.
Tiana Olivo, owner of Bruja’s Brew Kombucha says COVID-19 has “greatly impacted” her business.
Olivo launched the business last summer, opening a trailer in East Austin. She says she was hoping the springtime would give her the boost she needed to “propel into [her] first successful year of business,” listing SXSW and Texas VegFest as events that would have given her business exposure in this critical first year.
“Now I’m at the point when I have to make difficult decisions every day to plan for this unpredictable future,” she said.
She is grateful the business is currently able to produce pre-packaged food for a local grocery store and is hoping to expand to other businesses. She has applied for grants and loans but has not heard anything back. “I’m going to keep on the lookout for financial assistance while doing what I can to keep my business afloat,” she said.
“When this is all over, I’m hoping Bruja’s Brew will have the biggest glow-up of the year and come back stronger than ever.”
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