Coronavirus Making Immediate Impact on Tourism and Hospitality Workers
A look at some of the resources available to help
Cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19, are now in every state in the U.S., and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the number of cases will continue to increase. On Monday, March 16, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards closed casinos, bars and movie theaters, and placed limits on public gatherings at 50 people. Restaurants have been limited to delivery, pick-up and drive-through orders, eliminating dine-in options.
In a city such as New Orleans, where nearly 100,000 workers are employed in the tourism and hospitality sector, there is a real threat to their economic health. The reduction in travel, canceling of events and closing of restaurants, museums and attractions mean reduced shifts and layoffs.
Have you ever received a paycheck with “Non-negotiable” printed in the amount box? For many workers, their hourly pay rate is so small that taxes take up the entire amount and their income is solely based on tips from customers. When the customers aren’t there, neither is the money. When your business is closed, the lack of customers becomes moot.
Many organizations and leaders recognize this challenge for workers and small businesses in the industry and have been making policy changes and resources available to help.
New Orleans City Council Member Kristen Gisleson Palmer, who represents District C, has been working with her team to provide assistance to her residents and business owners. District C includes the neighborhoods of Algiers, French Quarter, Marigny, Treme, St. Roch and Bywater, where tourism is a primary industry and those who work in it often live.
“My focus is on the reality that we are going to face pretty quick here with our hospitality workers, and that’s just making sure that they have enough food and resources quickly available,” said Palmer. “We’re in the process of trying to set up a couple food pantries. We’re working with Second Harvest to do that.”
Palmer’s team has worked with Second Harvest to deliver hot meals to elderly residents in her district, and now they are collaborating to create the temporary food pantries.
“Second Harvest collaborates with community stakeholders, like Councilmember Kristen Palmer, across our 23 parish serve area to improve food access,” said Luella Provenza, chief impact officer of Second Harvest Food Bank. “COVID-19 presents new and unique challenges as we experience school, business and restaurant closures. Without a doubt it will have a negative impact on the hospitality industry, leaving many individuals to experience food insecurity. Through this collaboration with Councilmember Palmer, we aim to alleviate the stress for hospitality workers who do not have access to disposable income to stock-up on food items.”
At this time, Second Harvest is waiting to receive a temporary waiver from the federal government that will lift some restrictions on the qualifications to establish need, thereby making it easier to serve more people during this specific period of demand.
The exact locations of the food pantries, which will function as food distribution points, are yet to be determined, but they are planned for Algiers and the Seventh Ward.
Small business owners within the industry are also working to make hard decisions for the financial health of their companies and the good of their workers.
Mel Ziegler, spokesperson for Bud’s Broiler, a locally owned and operated restaurant chain since 1952, said the restaurant ownership has five of its six locations open, and is reopening its sixth today. The strategy they implemented was one of shared and equal shifts. They took the number of stores and the hours they are open, 11 a.m to 7 p.m., then divided that time into shifts and distributed those shifts equally among their employees.
“We wanted to keep our employees with income coming in,” said Ziegler. “We tried to accommodate our employees as much as possible. The goal is to keep our employees busy and provide food for the public.”
Bud’s Broiler has always done business with carry out options and has participated in the Waitr food delivery app as well. Last week, anticipating the reduced operations likely to come, the management enrolled in Uber Eats food delivery, which Ziegler expects will be operational by Thursday.
“We’re trying to get close to breaking even. We can take another week or two of this to get our numbers up and we’ll be okay,” said Ziegler. “Bud’s Broiler has around since 1952 and we intend to be here even longer. We weathered Katrina, we weathered all kinds of things. But this is definitely unique and we could wake up tomorrow and they tell us to close all restaurant operations.”
Other organizations, such as the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation, have been trying to help tourism and hospitality workers impacted by COVID-19 while still serving constituents within their mission.
“At this time, we are still reviewing and awarding applications while examining our reserves, and researching other financial assistance from prospective partners,” Louisiana Hospitality Foundation said in a statement. “We do not want to give anyone the false hope of support from our hospitality worker crisis grant program. We will continue to accept applications based on our existing program criteria to potentially support an industry worker who was impacted by an emergency such as a house fire, car accident, etc. that is unrelated to COVID-19 as we continue to identify possible resources to expand our work in the community.”
This is a difficult time for many. If you are looking for local immediate assistance with food pantry locations, you can call 211. For information on the SNAP program and help with the application, you can text GETSNAP (no spaces) to 898211; visit www.dcfs.la.gov/getSNAP; email LAHelpU.DCFS@la.gov or call 1-888-LA-HELP-U (1-888-524-3578) between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.
The Louisiana Workforce Commission has also changed its rules regarding unemployment due to COVID-19. For information and resources to apply for unemployment visit this website.
And, because many people who work in the tourism and hospitality industry are also creative artists and culture bearers, the following is a link to a list of resources being curated for those individuals nationwide.