On Thursday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that 4,000 out-of-work restaurant workers severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic would be given a one-time $800 stipend of cash.
The $3.2 million program, the Secure Emergency Relief for Vulnerable Employees, or SERVE, is to be funded directly from the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles. To be eligible, restaurant workers must live in the city of Los Angeles, must be at least 18 years old, have an annual income of $58,450 or below, and must show that their job loss or working hours being cut by 50% or more stems from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also open to workers not only from restaurants, but also workers from food stands and from breweries, wineries, and bars that serve food.
SERVE was set up in response due to the continued effects of restaurants being stymied by state, county, and city lockdown orders that have largely reduced restaurants to mostly take out services, as well as the recent outdoor dining ban, a move that has put even more restaurant workers out of work. Overall, the food service sector, one of the largest sectors for low-income workers in the LA metro area, has had 4 out of 10 employees lose their jobs this year.
“With outdoor dining suspended at our restaurants, the losses suffered by the industry’s workers and business owners are mounting,” said Mayor Garcetti on Thursday. “I’ve heard the pain in the voices of our service workers and from our restaurant owners. SERVE will be a lifeline for 4,000 of our most vulnerable and beloved workers, as all Angelenos work to bring those COVID numbers back down so we can reopen more.”
Critics charge that SERVE is not enough, and doesn’t cover nearly enough people.
However, despite the tens of thousands of food service employees being out of work, only 4,000 are to receive stipends. The shortfall of the stipends, as well as the applicants being selected at random for the money should the number of applicants go above 4,000, has drawn criticism from many in the sector.
“I do have to say that it’s good to see SERVE acting as a little stimulus for restaurant workers here in LA, all out of non-public funds. That’s a good thing,” Armando Rivas, a food service industry mediator in Los Angeles, told the Globe. “But this isn’t enough. $800 is roughly about how much a restaurant worker makes in a month because they aren’t salaried and because many rely on tips. So that $800 SERVE recipients are getting just gives them another month. That’s it.”
“It’s just a partial solution to a problem they caused by stopping outdoor dining and reinstalling the curfew. It’s basically the city giving them a months’ severance for screwing them over. And I should say only 4,000 out of the tens of thousands out of work in restaurants alone.”
“And we get it. COVID-19 is really bad right now. It really is a huge risk. But they got rid of some of the safest ways for people to still eat out and help these restaurants out. They’re trying to spin this as positive and being generous, but it’s really their way of acknowledging, partially, what they just did to a lot of hard working people.”
The SERVE program is not attached to any other recent programs designed to help out the food service industry, including the recent 5.6 million grant program for restaurants in LA County.
SERVE applications start Monday, December 7th and will be open for new applicants until Friday the 11th.
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