Illinois Restaurant Association launches $500 relief fund grants for eligible workers

Workers who had or cared for someone with COVID-19, or who were out of work without unemployment benefits for 3 weeks are eligible
CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Illinois Restaurant Association has launched a relief fund to help struggling restaurant workers that qualify with one-time $500 grants.

The IRA began accepting applications Monday morning at 10 a.m. To qualify for the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund, you must have either: been diagnosed with COVID-19, served as a caregiver for an immediate family member who had COVID-19, or quarantined with a doctor's note; or been out of work for three weeks or more without unemployment benefits.

Cinthia Miranda, an employee at Flo Café and Bar, was out of work for more than a month this summer, caring for her father with COVID-19 and later contracting the virus herself.

"It was very stressful," she said. "I didn't know how I was going to make next month's rent, feed my kids, even just be healthy."

A single mother of two, she fought a battle on two fronts: against the virus and to keep food on the table.

"It is in dire straits out here," said Sam Toia, president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association. "People in the hospitality industry have been hit the hardest by this pandemic."

Once the largest private sector employer in the state, the IRA said hospitality is now one of the largest struggling industries.

"We started this year with over 25,000 restaurants in the state of Illinois," Toia said. "It's predicted that 20% of the restaurants could close. That's 5,000 restaurants, and there would be 120,000 jobs eliminated."

A grant from the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund would make a huge difference for workers like Miranda.

"It would mean being able to put food on the table, being able to get everyday necessities, medication," she said. "Five hundred dollars for a lot of people is a lot, so I think it would mean a lot to different people."

The IRA said it hopes to award as many grants as their funding allows. Applications are available in English and Spanish.
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