Wolf to Legislature: Help Our Struggling Restaurants Now

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at a news conference on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, in Pittsburgh. (Screenshot)

By Patrick Abdalla

October 22, 2020

Restaurants “should not be forced to bear the financial burden of [the pandemic] on their own,” Gov. Tom Wolf said.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf is asking the state’s Liquor Control Board to waive liquor license fees through 2021 in an effort to help businesses deal with the effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic and business closures.

Wolf and other officials present at a news conference in Pittsburgh on Thursday said the pandemic hit the restaurant and hospitality industry particularly hard.

“That’s not the fault of the restaurants,” Wolf said, adding, “They should not be forced to bear the financial burden of this on their own.”

Wolf admitted that he has no control over the Liquor Control Board, which is independent, but he hopes it follows his recommendations. Wolf nominated all three board members to their current positions.

Wolf called on the Republican-led Legislature to work with him to help restaurants by canceling or reducing alcohol taxes, allowing restaurants to purchase alcohol nearly at cost for six months, directing $225 million in loans from CARES Act money to small business associations, and setting up $100 million in forgivable loans and grants.

Wolf pointed out that the both sides were able to come together to distribute two-thirds of the cares act funds. Now, according to Wolf, it’s time to get the rest to the people.

“We still have plenty of time to do it, let’s do it,” he said.

Wolf made this call for cooperation as state health officials reported 2,063 new coronavirus cases across the state. Health officials said that number included some people who should have been added in Wednesday’s total.

Pennsylvania has seen an average of 1,549 cases per day over the last seven days—the highest numbers since mid-April.

The commonwealth has had 188,360 cases of the novel coronavirus and at least 8,592 people have died from COVID-19 or coronavirus-related illness.

Asked if he would issue another statewide shutdown order, Wolf said, “No. Who knows? There’s a chance.”

Then he explained why he thought it was unlikely the state would have to do so.

Scientists and medical professionals have better tools to deal with the virus, Wolf said, and know how to help patients now. He pointed to lower hospitalization rates. 

During the peak in the spring, more than 3,000 people were hospitalized. That’s three times the slightly more than 1,000 hospitalized today. Wolf also pointed out that fewer than 100 people are on ventilators and the state has more than 6,000.

Credit, he said, for the state’s success goes to residents.

“The real reason we’ve done well is most Pennsylvanians have done a great job,” he said.

“Pennsylvania has done a great job because Pennsylvanians are really great.”

But some of the sacrifices Pennsylvanians to slow down the virus have made include not going to restaurants, which has hurt the industry. 

“Today’s announcement is a lifeline,” said state Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), because it provides hope.

State Rep. Ed Gainey (D-Allegheny) said the changes Wolf has proposed would help restaurateurs and their employees during an important time of year. 

“What type of holiday spirit can we pump back into them,” Gainey asked.

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