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A difficult year for restaurants in Massachusetts

The COVID-19 pandemic has been raging since for more than a year. Domestically, it has infected more than 29 million people and claimed more than 532,000 lives. Of these, more than 600,000 Massachusetts residents are infected and more than 16,000 have died. COVID-19 has drastically – and irreversibly – changed lives as many of us knew before, and it is difficult to understand or gauge the breadth of what we have lost because there is still so much we are losing. The pandemic has caused untold millions of people extreme pain in the form of grief, depression, economic anxiety, and social isolation.

The world has not seen this type of global health crisis in more than a century. Yet, in the face of such an unprecedented and grave disease, it always feels that the US – or at least its politicians and the business leaders it is most drawn to – did not take it very seriously. Economic relief for individuals and companies has been slow to materialize and for the most part has been inadequate when it ultimately was. Workers at restaurants, grocery stores, delivery services and meat packers who were told they would be essential if the pandemic broke out have not been prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine in many states, including here in Massachusetts.

In short, it’s been a terrible bloody year. Today, March 15, it marks the first anniversary of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s decision to close indoor restaurants and bars to slow the spread of the virus in the Commonwealth. The shutdown should take three weeks, from March 17th to March 6th; As it turned out, restaurants didn’t resume indoor dining until June 22nd.

A lot has happened in these three months. Some of it was kind of good:

But most of it was decidedly bad:

These points just scratch the surface. These three months were an excruciating time for the catering industry, which hardly improved in the following months. When Massachusetts restaurant owners sought help, state lawmakers continued to ignore an aid bill that would have set up a $ 20 million fund – Peanuts in State budget Terms – to help restaurants struggling through the pandemic.

The federal government-administered paycheck protection program was designed to provide much-needed help to restaurant operators. confusing and unjust;; and the The funds should keep workers on the payrollThis was a condition that was difficult to guarantee given the very real fear of going back to work that existed (and still persists) many restaurant workers. What looked good at first – restaurants get money to pay workers who need it to get back to work – was actually a lot more complicated. If you’ve spent the money wrong, restaurant operators might be on the hook for credit They could not ultimately afford it while restaurant workers faced the impossible decision of choosing between their health and a paycheck.

Instead of counting on the fact that viruses don’t care about monthly job reports or the wider economy – or about the Gregorian calendar – federal and state legislators continued to respond with a patchwork of halves and patches of the functionality of the States maintain degrees of normalcy, despite the obvious fact that absolutely nothing was normal. Restaurants and their workers should have been rescued to close store and go home until the pandemic subsided.

Instead, the restaurants in Massachusetts reopened for indoor use in June 2020 and have been open with different capacity limits since then. In fact, restaurants stayed open despite the spike in COVID-19 cases in late 2020 and early 2021, and the state hospital system reaching its limits for the second time in less than a year.

Massachusetts lawmakers finally set out to set up a small business aid fund, and Congress finally is offer restaurant operators targeted relief You have asked for it for a year – but it was too little, too late for so many people. How many independent restaurant operators lost their savings before the relief finally came? How many Massachusetts restaurant workers got sick from having to choose between health and rent? How many have had difficulty accessing unemployment benefits? How many could not Access to unemployment benefits? And how many were evacuated or starved in the past year? The overwhelming narrative was one of legislative stagnation, economic pain for restaurant operators, and existential fear for restaurant workers.

Now that the vaccine rollout is underway, there will be a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel for some Massachusetts residents. But even if the pandemic recedes Inequalities persist. The state dining rooms are fully open with no percentage capacity, but restaurant workers are not eligible for the vaccine. Color communities are vaccinated at disproportionately low rates, although Baker insists that equity is his top priority. These differences have consequences for gastronomy: According to a Recent study of the American Journal of Occupational MedicineHispanic and Latin American food prep and service workers in Massachusetts died eight times more often than white workers from COVID-19 between March and July 2020. And there are COVID-19 cases in the state of Cital concentrated in color communities with the highest proportion of essential workers, including cooks and waiters.

As the pandemic continues to wane until – fingers crossed – is completely gone, the restaurant operators lucky enough to weather the storm will rebound. Some will even thrive (Lord knows there will be a lot of empty former restaurant space for rent in the years to come). But restaurant workers in Massachusetts will continue to feel the pain caused by the pandemic because they will continue to live in a country where The top lobbying arm in their industry goes against their best personal and financial interestsand in a state that is only „Affordable” for people running into six figures.

A light shines at the end of the tunnel, but not everyone is allowed to bask in it.