Coronavirus

Miami restaurant workers laid off over coronavirus may qualify for cash assistance

The week after Miami restaurants were forced to lay off thousands of workers, they have raised tens of thousands of dollars through a new fund dedicated to help those former employees.

The Miami Restaurant Employee Relief Fund aims to deliver $250 grants to full-time Miami-Dade employees who have been out of work since governments ordered restaurant dining rooms shut to staunch the spread of the coronavirus. Some have continued to try to stay open as take-out only, delivering their own orders to cut third-party delivery app costs.

Brad Kilgore, owner of four Miami restaurants, including Wynwood’s Alter, partnered with Miami real estate broker Felix Bendersky, whose company has pivoted to running this fund with five employees.

By Monday, they had raised more than $40,000, received more than 540 applications, and they expect to pay out the first 130 grants by Tuesday morning. They say 100 percent of the money raised will go to applicants.

“People need groceries and to get by right now,” Bendersky said. “The food and beverage industry has been very good to me so in this time, I had to give back.”

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Quickly, they spread the word with the help of some of Miami’s best-known names — James Beard award winners Michelle Bernstein and Michael Schwartz among them — who have emailed the link to the Go Fund Me fundraiser to their databases of thousands of diners who have patronized them over the years. They are asking other restaurants to do the same.

“It’s an industry full of misfits, but we do look out for each other,” Schwartz said.

The fund hopes to surpass its stated $305,000 goal, particularly if it can bring on a corporate sponsor. Last week, Boston’s Restaurant Strong Fund, started with $100,000 seed money from the beer brewery Samuel Adams, which is matching another $100,000 in donations. The National Restaurant Association estimates up to 7 million workers will be out of a job within the next three months.

“People in our industry are suffering in a way we don’t even understand and this is just the beginning,” Bernstein wrote via text. “They are helpless and scared and don’t know where their next paycheck is going to come from.”

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Kilgore, his spouse, Soraya, and Bendersky quickly put together the Miami operation over the weekend, opening the fund to as many former employees as possible.

To qualify for the grant — which, unlike a loan, does not have to be paid back — workers must have been employed 30 hours a week at a Miami-Dade restaurant, bar, café or nightclub; submit their last two pay stubs and agree to provide a W-9 form for the IRS.

If there is one hole in the fundraiser, they admit, it is that undocumented restaurant workers, many of whom hold the low-paying dishwashing and line-cook jobs that make up the backbone of the industry, may not hear about the fund and or qualify. (“Problem is we can’t verify their employment, which sucks,” Bendersky said.)

“We just wanted to make sure people get the money,” Soraya Kilgore said, “and put food on the table as fast as possible.”

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