Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association Celebrates Legislative Victories for Florida’s Hospitality Industry

TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) today released its legislative summary report and scorecard, marking the 2021 Legislative Session a huge success for Florida’s hospitality industry.

The hospitality trade association advocated for several legislative priorities this year, including securing COVID-19 liability protections for businesses following safe protocols and procedures, codifying alcohol-to-go permanently, and securing funding for VISIT Florida, to name a few.

 

FRLA President and CEO Carol Dover released the following statement following this year’s successful session.

“After COVID-19 brought one of the darkest years for Florida’s hospitality and tourism industry, this year’s Legislative Session has given us some light and hope for the future as we continue to rebuild this great industry. Ensuring that businesses and their teams are protected from job-killing nuisance lawsuits, allowing them to continue their safe operations of alcohol-to-go which kept so many alive, and obtaining essential funding for Florida’s critical marketing organization – VISIT Florida – are all huge victories for us. I want to thank Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls for their strong leadership and support for hospitality and tourism to help us move forward. As the economic engine of Florida and a top employer, we will continue to advocate for state and federal policies that help us recover from the impacts of COVID-19.”

 For FRLA’s legislative score card and full 2021 Legislative Report, click here.

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FRLA Statement on Passage of Alcohol-to-Go Legislation, Bill Now Goes to Governor DeSantis

TALLAHASSEE – Today, the Florida Legislature passed the SB 148 on Alcohol-to-Go, and the bill will now go to Governor DeSantis for signature. This legislation has been a top priority for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA). Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants across Florida were permitted to sell alcohol-to-go with food orders pursuant to Governor DeSantis’ executive order. This was a critical lifeline for establishments who were closed to indoor dining and desperate to keep their businesses from shuttering. Following the rules closely, these restaurants demonstrated the sale of alcohol for off-premises consumption to be a practice that can be done safely.

Carol Dover, President and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA), released the following statement upon the bill’s final passage.

“We are so pleased for the final passage of SB 148. Alcohol-to-go continues to be an important source of revenue for restaurants that are struggling to survive. We are grateful to Senator Jennifer Bradley and Representative Josie Tomkow for sponsoring this legislation. They are champions for our industry. We would also like to thank the coalition of businesses and organizations that worked closely together to advocate for this great legislation: Uber, Anheuser-Busch, The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, and the Florida Independent Spirits Association. We are grateful to Governor DeSantis for creating this lifeline through his executive orders, and we are excited to advocate for his signature on this good bill.”

 For more information on FRLA’s legislative priorities, click here.

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DEO Announces Temporary Extension of Work Search Waiver Through May 29

Yesterday, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity announced Executive Order 210-015 in its Re-Employment Assistance Update. The order temporarily extends the waiver of the work search and work registration requirements through May 29, 2021. More details, including the PDF of the full EO is linked below.

Waivers

  • DEO issued Executive Order 21-015 to continue waiving the work search and work registration requirements through May 29, 2021, and the waiting week requirement through June 26, 2021.
  • When the waiver expires, claimants must submit work searches for every week of state or federal benefits requested. Additionally, new claimants who file after the expiration of the waiver must complete the work registration through Employ Florida.
  • An accurate work search record may include, but is not limited to, registering for work and reemployment services with a local CareerSource Center, completing a job application in person or online, mailing a job application or resume, making in-person visits with potential employers, interviewing with potential employers, or registering for work with employment or placement agencies to name a few.
  • The Department encourages claimants to continue searching for work regardless of the waiver extension.

Daily updates can be found on the Reemployment Assistance (RA) Claims Dashboard.

Rick Scott Calls on Labor Department to Fight Fraud and Abuse to Get Americans Back to Work

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., sent a letter to U.S. Labor Sec. Marty Walsh requesting information on the Department’s plans to combat fraud and abuse of enhanced federal unemployment benefits.

“While Senator Scott has supported targeted aid to struggling families and businesses, he has been clear that the federal government cannot be paying Americans more to stay home than go back to their jobs,” his office noted.

The letter is below.

Dear Secretary Walsh:

I am writing to you today about an important issue facing small businesses in Florida and across the country. As we work to safely reopen our economy and get Americans back to work, I am hearing from many small businesses throughout Florida that, due to fraud and abuse of enhanced federal unemployment benefits, these small businesses are having trouble hiring enough people to meet demand and keep their doors open.

State and federal unemployment benefits have provided a necessary source of assistance for many workers who lost their job and livelihoods due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, abuse of these benefits hurts America’s economic recovery and can be devastating for small businesses who are attempting to safely reopen. According to the latest data from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), despite improved economic conditions, small business owners continue to struggle with hiring. In fact, NFIB’s monthly jobs report for March shows that 42% of owners surveyed said they had job openings they could not fill – a record high. According to the NFIB survey, “small business owners are competing with the pandemic and increased unemployment benefits that are keeping some workers out of the labor force.”

Unfortunately, the tourism industry continues to be hit the hardest by this trend. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest Small Business Pulse Survey, 36.6% of U.S. Accommodation and Food Services small businesses’ operating capacity was affected by the availability of employees to work in the last few weeks. The national average for all sectors for this statistic was 16.3%.

I understand that current law prohibits workers who refuse suitable work from receiving unemployment benefits. Current law also prohibits workers from remaining on unemployment simply because benefits pay them more than what they would earn after returning to work. Despite this, I am hearing from many Florida businesses and employers that finding workers due to enhanced unemployment benefits continues to be a significant barrier to adequately staffing and reopening their operations.

Earlier this month, we heard testimony from Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) President and CEO Carol Dover in the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade and Export Promotion about the labor shortage her members are seeing throughout Florida. Ms. Dover testified that, “Simply put, we are competing with state and federal unemployment benefits. Workers tell us they make too much on unemployment to return to work. So businesses are forced to limit capacity and shorten their hours without adequate staff to serve guests.”

Given this feedback from Florida hospitality leaders, it is important we fully understand how the U.S. Department of Labor is working to prevent, detect and address unemployment insurance fraud, waste and abuse. Specifically, I would like to ask you the following questions:

What is the Department’s approach to actively identifying incidences of fraud where people, who have refused a suitable offer of work, continue to receive unemployment benefits in violation of current law? Is this a priority for the Department? Please explain the Department’s process and how you work with states and other federal agencies to stop this type of unemployment fraud.

Section 2102 of the CARES Act of 2020 (Pub. L.116-136) established several criteria by which people could qualify and receive unemployment benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program if they do not or no longer qualify for their state’s unemployment insurance benefit program. Please explain how the Department of Labor monitors and verifies that PUA recipients satisfy, and continue to satisfy, the eligibility requirements set forth by the CARES Act. What controls have been put in place to prevent and curb fraud within this new federal PUA program?

What actions has the Department taken, or plans to take, to improve accountability and oversight across the entire unemployment benefit system and reduce fraud, waste and abuse, particularly when it comes to identity theft and impersonation?

I am opposed to policies that harm or slow economic recovery, which is why I offered an amendment to the CARES Act last year to prevent Unemployment Insurance benefits from exceeding a worker’s previous salary. We need to be doing everything possible to get our economy reopened and Americans back to work. I look forward to your responses to these important questions and working with you to ensure that those who are eligible and entitled to these benefits continue to receive them in a timely and efficient manner.

 

SBA Announces Opening of Restaurant Revitalization Fund – Get Prepared Now

Today, the US Small Business Administration announced that registrations for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant program will begin this Friday, April 30 2021 at 9 am EDT and applications will begin acceptance on Monday, May 3, 2021 at 12 pm EDT.  The online application will remain open to any eligible establishment until all funds are exhausted. FRLA encourages all eligible establishments to prepare by:

  • Registering for an account in advance at restaurants.sba.gov starting Friday, April 30, 2021, at 9 a.m. EDT.
  • Reviewing the official guidance, including program guide, frequently asked questions, and application sample.
  • Preparing the required documentation.
  • Working with a point-of-sale vendor or visiting restaurants.sba.gov to submit an application when the application portal opens. [Note: If an applicant is working with a point-of-sale vendor, they do not need to register beforehand on the site.]

FRLA is also co-hosting a webinar this Thursday, April 20, at 10 am with the SBA and the National Restaurant Association. Register now to make sure you are prepared to get RRF funding.

FRLA Statement on New Gaming Compact with Seminole Tribe

TALLAHASSEE – Today, Governor Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida announced an historic new gaming compact which will bring at least $2.5 billion in revenue to the state in the next five years and an expected $6 billion through the end of this decade.

Carol Dover, President and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA), released the following statement.
“On behalf of Florida’s hospitality industry, I want to congratulate Governor Ron DeSantis, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Senate President Wilton Simpson, and House Speaker Chris Sprowls on the historic signing of the new gaming compact. This is a huge win for all Floridians and for the tourism industry, which has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only will the agreement create jobs, but it will also bring more visitors to our great state. Florida’s hotels and restaurants are ready to welcome the many visitors our state will have due to this new compact.”
For more details on the compact, including a copy of the agreement, please visit Governor DeSantis’ press release here.
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Commissioner Fried Encourages Florida Restaurants to Apply for the U.S. SBA’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund

Contact: Office of Communications, (850) 617-7737  Twitter: @FDACS & @NikkiFriedFL

Tallahassee, Fla. – The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has announced the availability of the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund, for which Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried encouraged Florida restaurants and other eligible businesses to apply. This week, the federal agency shared key details on application requirements, eligibility, and a program guide for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF). The American Rescue Plan, signed into law by President Joe Biden, established the fund to help revive the restaurant industry. The SBA will administer the funds to the hardest-hit small restaurants.

 

The restaurant industry has been among the hardest-hit sectors during COVID-19. According to the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA), approximately 10,000 restaurants in Florida have closed, with 65 percent of Florida restaurant operators reporting lower revenue; despite this, 83 percent of Florida restaurant operators have made charitable donations throughout COVID-19, including cash, food, in-kind services, and volunteerism. Restaurants are a key market for Florida agricultural products, including seafood, meat, and fresh seasonal produce such as tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and fruit.

 

“Restaurant owners and small businesses in the restaurant industry have really been impacted by COVID-19. So many local restaurants are beloved community gathering places and have had to make tough decisions, from staffing and hiring to even staying in business,” said Commissioner Fried. “With restaurants a crucial partner for Florida’s farmers and ranchers, I encourage all eligible Florida restaurant businesses to take advantage of these federal recovery funds, especially women, veteran, and disadvantaged restaurant operators. These small businesses feed our families, support our neighbors, and are the backbone of our communities.”

 

“Since day one of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have worked with state and federal leaders to achieve financial relief and save Florida’s restaurants,’ said Carol Dover, President and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA). “We are thrilled with the passage of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which is a lifeline for our operators who are trying to keep their doors open and their staff employed. We encourage all Florida restaurants, bars, and other eligible recipients to prepare for the launch of the program to secure these much-needed funds.”

 

The SBA draft application, a background document, and an FAQ document may all be found on FRLA’s website. Additional details on application requirements, eligibility, and a program guide may be found from the SBA in English at www.SBA.gov/restaurants or in Spanish at www.SBA.gov/restaurantes. Eligible entities who have experienced pandemic-related revenue loss include restaurants, food stands, food trucks and carts, caterers, bars, bakeries, brewpubs, wineries, distilleries, and many others.

 

Application Portal Pilot: Ahead of the application launch and over the next two weeks, the SBA will establish a seven-day pilot period for the RRF application portal and conduct extensive outreach and training. The pilot period will be used to address technical issues ahead of the public launch. Participants in this pilot will be randomly selected from existing PPP borrowers in priority groups for RRF and will not receive funds until the application portal is open to the public.

 

Priority for Disadvantaged Applicants: Following the pilot, the application portal will be opened to the public. The official application launch date will be announced at a later date. For the first 21 days that the program is open, the SBA will prioritize reviewing applications from small businesses owned by women, veterans, and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. Following the 21-day period, all eligible applicants are encouraged to submit applications. The groundwork for this announcement is the result of a comprehensive effort to reach out to diverse stakeholders in order to understand the needs and barriers restaurants face in accessing emergency relief aid.

 

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Treasury, IRS provide guidance on tax relief for deductions for food or beverages from restaurants

The IRS and Treasury Department issued guidance yesterday allowing a 100% business deduction for food or beverages purchased from restaurants, from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2022. For clarity, the term “restaurant” means a business that prepares and sells food or beverages to retail customers for immediate consumption, regardless of whether the food or beverages are consumed on the business’s premises.

Businesses can temporarily deduct 100% beginning Jan. 1, 2021

WASHINGTON – The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service today issued Notice 2021-25 providing guidance under the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Relief Act of 2020. The Act added a temporary exception to the 50% limit on the amount that businesses may deduct for food or beverages. The temporary exception allows a 100% deduction for food or beverages from restaurants.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, through Dec. 31, 2022, businesses can claim 100% of their food or beverage expenses paid to restaurants as long as the business owner (or an employee of the business) is present when food or beverages are provided and the expense is not lavish or extravagant under the circumstances.

Where can businesses get food and beverages and claim 100%?

Under the temporary provision, restaurants include businesses that prepare and sell food or beverages to retail customers for immediate on-premises and/or off-premises consumption.  However, restaurants do not include businesses that primarily sell pre-packaged goods not for immediate consumption, such as grocery stores and convenience stores.

Additionally, an employer may not treat certain employer-operated eating facilities as restaurants, even if these facilities are operated by a third party under contract with the employer.

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Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association Urges Senate to Protect Tourism Tax Revenues, Oppose SB 2008

Legislation Would Expand Tourist and Convention Development Tax Uses

MEDIA CONTACT

Ashley Chambers: achambers@frla.org

 

TALLAHASSEE – Yesterday, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) sent a letter to members of the Florida Senate Committee on Community Affairs strongly opposing Senate Bill 2008, which would expand the approved uses of Florida’s Tourist Development Taxes and Convention Development Taxes. The approved uses of those taxes were adopted by voter referendum for the purpose of promoting and marketing tourism in Florida.

“No industry in Florida has been hit harder than the tourism and hospitality industries,” said Carol Dover, President and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA). “With an historic drop in visitors from 134 million to 86 million last year – the lowest in a decade – it is more important than ever to protect our tourism dollars and the stated mission of those dollars – to promote tourism so that we can bring back our guests and continue to rebuild.”

The opposition letter, linked here, was co-signed by the FRLA Executive Chairman Jim Shirley and Vice Chair Olivia Hoblit.

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Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and Florida Hospitality Industry Praise the Signing of COVID-19 Liability Bill

TALLAHASSEE – Today, Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law SB 72 on Civil Liability for Damages Relating to COVID-19. The passage of this legislation has been a top priority for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) and the hospitality industry. FRLA and its members have been working with the Legislature and the Governor’s Office to enact meaningful and certain legislation to prevent frivolous lawsuits as the industry tries to recover from the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“On behalf of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, our 10,000 members, and the statewide hospitality industry, we applaud Governor Ron DeSantis for signing this critical legislation to protect Florida businesses,” said Carol Dover, President and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA). “I also want to thank House Speaker Sprowls, Senate President Simpson, and the bill sponsors Senator Jeff Brandes and Representative Lawrence McClure, as well as CFO Patronis who has championed COVID-19 protections for our industry. Our hotels, restaurants, and suppliers join other businesses across Florida in breathing a collective sigh of relief that they can continue to safely operate and welcome their guests without fear of nuisance litigation.”

 

WHAT THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY IS SAYING:

“As a small business owner and independent restaurateur, the signing of the COVID-19 liability protections into law allows me to focus on keeping my team members employed and our guests happy,” said Chef Jim Shirley, Owner of Chef Jim Shirley Enterprises, operator of multiple restaurants in the Florida Panhandle, and Chairman of the Board for FRLA. “On behalf of small business owners across the state, I commend the Governor for taking this action and helping protect businesses who are doing the right thing to promote sanitation and safety.

 

“Speaking as one of the over 42,000 small business owners who continued to safely serve frontline and health care workers, first responders, and law-enforcement during an unfathomably difficult year and proudly re-employing hospitality workers in our restaurants, we are relieved that the COVID-19 liability law was signed by Governor DeSantis,” said Mike Quillen, President of Gecko’s Hospitality Group in Sarasota. “Taking this additional contrived threat off our plates will allow us to get back to the business of safely running our restaurants and continuing to create career opportunity and economic stimulus to help the great state of Florida recover.”

 

“We at Blue Bamboo Restaurant and Bar are thrilled over Governor DeSantis’ signing of a COVID liability protection bill, “said Dennis Chan, Chef, Owner, and Operator of Blue Bamboo. “We have had a rough year, but now some of the uncertainty of our recovery is clear. Our legislators and Governor DeSantis have just helped prove that Florida is open for business.”

 

“It has been an incredibly difficult year for restaurants as we recover from shutdowns, loss of visitors, and now labor shortages,” said Carlos Gazitua, President of Sergio’s Family Restaurants. ”Facing the threat of lawsuits was an additional concern for our industry, and with his signing of the COVID liability legislation into law, Governor DeSantis has taken a critical step to help restaurants move forward to a recovery and put this terrible year behind us.”

 

“With these new COVID-19 liability protections in place, it gives us the confidence in opening new operations in the near future,” said Drew McLeod, FMP, Owner and Operator of Savour. “It was the one obstacle we had before moving forward on a new concept.“

 

“I applaud the Governor and Florida Legislature for passing this important bill,” said Sheldon Suga, Vice President and Managing Director of Hawks Cay Resort in Duck Key and Immediate Past Chair of the FRLA Executive Committee. “We care about our guests and their safety, and this will allow responsible businesses to continue to rebuild our industry.”

 

“Confidence is essential to our pandemic recovery,” said Lisa Lombardo, Chief People and Culture Officer for HDG Hotels. “Governor DeSantis’ signing of the COVID liability acknowledges all that our industry has put into effect to protect our team members and guests, while also allowing for measures to be taken if there is a harmful gap in a business’s practices. Today, our Governor stood by business owners without compromising constituents’ welfare. This is a tremendous confidence boost for all stakeholders: business owners, consumers, visitors – all of us in Florida.”

 

“This is great common-sense legislation coming from Tallahassee today with the signing of this bill,” said John Horne, Owner and Operator of Anna Maria Oyster Bar. “It is so very important to those of us in business that have been doing everything in our power to open up safely for our staff and our guests. Not having to worry about Covid-related nuisance lawsuits and the expense to respond is a huge relief. Thanks to our legislators and Governor DeSantis for this.”

 

“Hotels and restaurants have the highest standards and have gone above and beyond to make our guests feel safe during the pandemic,” said Roger Amidon, General Manager for Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort and Spa. “As an industry we have brand standards, CDC standards, and have taken extra sanitation precautions to provide a safe and enjoyable vacation for people who want to travel to Florida. The implementation of this legislation allows us to continue to focus on guest and team member safety as we have been for the last year.”

 

“I applaud the Governor and Florida Legislature for passing this important bill,” said Sheldon Suga, Vice President and Managing Director of Hawks Cay Resort in Duck Key and Immediate Past Chair of the FRLA Executive Committee. “We care about our guests and their safety, and this will allow responsible business to continue to rebuild our industry.

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