But the limited relief effort falls short of providing assistance to the thousands of affected food service employees in the city.

By Jelisa Castrodale
December 03, 2020
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On Wednesday afternoon, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti warned residents that, if coronavirus cases continue to reach record-highs, the city will run out of hospital beds before the end of the month. In an attempt to slow the spread of the illness, he is urging his citizens to stay home as much as possible.

"My message couldn't be simpler," he said. "It's time to hunker down. It's time to cancel everything. And if it isn't essential, don't do it. Don't meet up with others outside your household. Don't host a gathering. Don't attend a gathering."

All Day Baby in Los Angeles closes outdoor dining
A customer waits for her order outside All Day Baby restaurant on the last day outdoor dining would be allowed in Silver Lake on November 25, 2020.
| Credit: Genaro Molina / Contributor/Getty Images

Garcetti also announced the creation of a program called SERVE (Secure Emergency Relief for Vulnerable Employees), which would provide a one-time $800 payment to restaurant and food service workers who have been affected by the pandemic. “I’ve heard the pain in the voices of our service workers and from our restaurant owners,” he said. “I’ve seen it in the data, which shows us that approximately four in every 10 people who work in full service restaurants have already lost their jobs this year.”

Any front- or back-of-house employee at "restaurants, food stands, mobile food units and push carts, and breweries, wineries and bars that serve food on the premises" who is over 18, lives within the city of Los Angeles, and had an annual (pre-pandemic) income of less than $58,450 is eligible to apply for SERVE benefits. (Unfortunately, only 4,000 workers will be selected to receive an $800 payment, which is just a fraction of the estimated 700,000 food industry employees who are out of work in Los Angeles County).

The SERVE program was launched in the wake of the county's decision to temporarily suspend outdoor dining on November 25, which again limits restaurants to takeout and delivery options only. “The persistent high number of cases requires additional safety measures that limit mixing in settings where people are not wearing masks,” L.A. County health director Barbara Ferrer said at the time the new restrictions were announced.

The outdoor dining shutdown is supposed to last for three weeks, but it is currently being challenged in court by the California Restaurant Association and the Engine Co. No. 28 restaurant. On Wednesday, L.A. County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant essentially instructed public health officials to show their work and share the data that they used to determine that the ban was necessary. For its part, L.A. County is offering grants for restaurants forced to close outdoor dining, but as Eater Los Angeles points out, qualifying for those also comes with a list of caveats.

"You have to do a risk-benefit analysis for public health," he said. "You don’t just talk about the risk of spreading disease. You have to talk about the benefit of keeping restaurants open,” Chalfant said.

Applications for the SERVE payments open at 9 a.m. on Monday, December 7 and will be accepted through Friday, December 11.