Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Women, Veterans, and Minority Restaurant Owners Lose COVID Relief Money After Lawsuit

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It has been all Chelley Bassett could do to keep the doors of her beloved Murphy’s Pub open during the pandemic. SEATTLE — A federal relief program designed to help women, minority and veteran restaurant owners survive the pandemic has backfired on them.

With her Paycheck Protection Program money spent, Bassett applied for the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund and was awarded $89,000.

“It’s been really rough,” she said. “We’ve been doing whatever we can to stay open. We cut the staff down to just me, my business partner, the head chef and one cook.”

She considered it a godsend that would help keep the drinks flowing at the Seattle pub as they have for the past 40 years.

“I was so happy because it was the last little push we needed to keep everything going,” Bassett said.

But that hope soon turned to dread. As quickly as the federal government granted that money, it took it away.

The funds gave priority in the application process to restaurants owned by women, minorities and veterans. A few establishments run by white men in Tennessee and Texas claimed discrimination. They sued and won.

“I wanted to do some advertising. I don’t have the money to do that now,” Bassett said. “We want to give people raises. We can’t give raises. What am I supposed to do?”

Now, Bassett and about 3,000 other restaurants have nothing.

RELATED: Some restaurants struggle to find employees as Washington allows return to full capacity

Anthony Anton, who heads the Washington Hospitality Association, says the pandemic put the average restaurant $150,000 in debt.

Anton is urging people to push Congress to make good on all of those grants.

“The court’s decision is the court’s decision,” he said. “We can’t do anything about that. Without the Restaurant Relief Fund coming back we will see more restaurants close. That’s just a truth. The debt is pretty high for a lot of small businesses and there is only so much you can do to keep up on it.”

Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the nation’s capital to fund all restaurants that asked for help. It remains unclear whether that will pass.

Back at Murphy’s, Bassett and all those other women, minorities and veterans now find themselves at the back of the line — if Congress does decide to do another round of funding.

“We’re the industry that’s hurt the most and we’ve survived by fighting and now then this happens,” she says. “It’s not right.”

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