NYC Food Policy Food Flash October 2020

by Melissa Gallanter, RD
A roundup of food policy topics

What’s Hot: NYC Restaurants Can Include a “COVID-19 Recovery Charge”

On March 17, 2020, New York City (NYC) restaurants closed for dine-in service, offering only take out and delivery. By the end of March, restaurant-spending in NYC had dropped by 90 percent compared to the previous year and nearly 1,000 restaurants, many of which were small businesses, closed permanently. Outdoor dining was introduced on June 22, allowing restaurants to use streets and sidewalks to serve a limited number of guests. At the end of September, indoor dining was allowed to resume at 25 percent capacity with strict safety protocols, such as temperature checks, contact information for contact tracing, and face covering requirements for when patrons are not seated. The next assessment of restaurant capacity will be on November 1, with the potential to allow 50 percent capacity for indoor dining.

With the long-term impacts of the shutdown and strict capacity allowances, many NYC restaurants are struggling to pay rent and remain open. As of October 17, restaurants in NYC have the option to include a COVID-19 Recovery Charge of up to 10 percent on customers’ bills. This will provide an opportunity for restaurant owners to increase their revenue until 100 percent indoor seating capacity is reinstated. The menu and bill must clearly disclose the surcharge, and the additional charge will be permitted until 90 days after full indoor dining is back. 

The surcharge must also be clearly indicated if customers order through an app or online, and cannot be applied to delivery or take-out.and cannot be charged by food stands, food trucks or food vehicles, or chain restaurants with more than 15 locations. 

Some restaurant owners may have to decide whether adding the surcharge is worth possibly deterring some patrons.

Food Policy Watchdog: New Bill to Establish a Bill of Rights for Restaurant Workers, All Essential Workers 

While the COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of the United States’ economy, millions of workers, including healthcare workers and food service workers, who were still providing essential services, have not been receiving health and safety measures to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Across the country, food industry workers have been pivoting their services in response to the needs of their communities and becoming compliance enforcement for the safety of themselves and patrons while at work. 

In order to provide for New York’s essential workers, Senate Bill S8308 is currently in committee at the New York State Senate. Introduced by Senator John Liu, the bill establishes a bill of rights for essential workers, defined as  “employee[s] of a business or entity providing essential services or functions during any state disaster emergency,” Essential services include but are not limited to healthcare operations, essential infrastructure, essential manufacturing (including food and pharmaceutical production), essential retail, sanitation, child care, and “providers of basic necessities to economically disadvantaged populations.” 

Under this bill, employers would be required to provide personal protective equipment (PPE), inform employees when another employee contracts a disease related to the state of emergency, and prevent employers from discriminating against an employee for reporting an unsafe work environment. 

Bill S8308 was sent to the Senate’s Labor Committee on May 11, where it is being reviewed before it will be put on the calendar to be voted on, debated, or amended. If the bill passes by a majority vote, it will move into the Senate to be reviewed again. 

Quote of the Month:

“Over the last four weeks, we have delivered 50 million Farmers to Families Food Boxes to American families, and we will continue to serve the most in need during this challenging time… You and your loved ones are cherished members of our great American family. This pandemic has brought many hardships on millions of hardworking individuals and communities through no fault of their own. We will support America’s recovery every step of the way.” – President Trump, letter included in food aid boxes distributed across the country 

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) $4 billion Farmers to Families Food Box Program has distributed more than 100 million boxes to hungry Americans since May. Its goal is to minimize food insecurity while also redirecting meat, dairy, and produce that normally would have gone to restaurants and other food-service businesses pre-COVID-19. 

With less than a month to go before the presidential election, organizations across the country handing out the food boxes are outraged at the requirement to include a letter signed by President Trump, and many even have refused to distribute the letters. Anti-hunger advocates and food-bank workers say that the letter can compromise the relationships the organizations have with the communities and individuals in which they serve. 

Nonprofits across the country worry that either distributing the letter or removing it from the boxes could be viewed as a political statement or an endorsement. However, in a statement to news site The Hill, the USDA has stated in an email to members of Congress that  “politics has played zero role in the Farmers to Families food box program — it is purely about helping farmers and distributors get food to Americans in need during this unprecedented time.” 

Food banks in several parts of the country told Politico that they have consulted lawyers to make sure they aren’t jeopardizing their nonprofit tax status, or violating any election laws by removing the letter from the food boxes provided to community members.

Fact Check: What Precautions Should I Take for Thanksgiving?

With Thanksgiving around the corner, in most years we’d already be booking  flights for the busiest travel weekend of the year and making preparations for Thanksgiving celebrations across the country. As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the United States, however, Americans are considering the best ways to protect themselves and their families, friends, and communities. Travel, of course, increases the chance of getting and spreading the virus. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a key source of health and safety information, provides recommendations to supplement the federal, state, and local health and safety rules and regulations with which holiday gatherings must comply. 

  • The CDC recommends that if you are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 or live with someone at increased risk, you should avoid in-person gatherings 
  • Host outdoor activities rather than indoor activities if possible. 
  • Limit the number of attendees as much as possible.
  • During a get-together, maintain a distance of at least six feet from people outside your household and wear a mask at all times. 
  • Make sure everyone washes their hands with soap and water before and after preparing, serving and eating food for and at a holiday celebration. 
  • Instead of family-style or potluck-style meals, encourage guests to bring food for themselves and their household members. 
  • If serving food, have one person serve food for everyone to avoid multiple people handing the serving utensils. 
  • Do food shopping online rather than in person to avoid large crowds doing holiday food shopping. 
  • Have a virtual dinner and share recipes with friends and family.

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