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Fund helps unemployed restaurant workers

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An industry group is working to help unemployed restaurant workers, many of whom cannot afford to go even a week without income.

The New Mexico Restaurant Association received a $10,000 donation from the Greater Santa Fe Restaurant Association Wednesday. The money will go to the NMRA’s Serving NM Fund so that it can begin to give small grants to restaurant employees out of work because of illness resulting from the coronavirus or because of layoffs that are resulting due to state restrictions that require people to stay home unless doing essential activities, and that mandate restaurants provide only drive-through, take-out or delivery services.

The Serving NM Fund will provide one-time $250 to $500 grants to people in the hospitality industry out of work through no fault of their own.

“We have two applicants already, so we are going to start releasing money ASAP,” said NMRA Chief Executive Director Carol Wight. “We do have to have a review committee look over applications.”

She said that the committee will review applications made on its website, www.nmrestaurants.org, once to twice a week, ensuring that applicants had been employed in the industry and experienced a job loss due to the coronavirus situation.

“People who apply for unemployment don’t get a check the first week, so it isn’t until the second week that they would even be looking for money,” Wight said. “Some of them are living hand to mouth, so we are happy to help them until they get that unemployment check.”

She said that the Serving NM Fund had been established a year ago to help employees experiencing hardships, but the fund never got off the ground until the current crisis provided an urgency to efforts and an impetus to donors.

Wight said that she thinks the association can best assist industry workers because its membership and the affiliated Hospitality Industry Education Foundation, which provides training for the industry, knows how to reach affected employees.

“If a restaurant is open, please go because we are going to need to get back on our feet quickly, and one way to do that is to stay working through this,” she said. “But our employees also need a lot of help during this time, and people are asking, how can I help that server that I love so much, and I would say on an aggregate basis, this is one of the best things you can do, is to give money for one of these grants for these employees who are in the industry.”

According to a U.S. Department of Labor announcement on Thursday, 17,187 people made an initial claim for unemployment benefits for the week ending March 21, up from 869 for the week ending March 14. In 2019, about 11% of the state’s workforce was employed by restaurants and the food industry, according to information from the New Mexico Restaurant Association.

Nationwide, first-time claims for unemployment increased by more than 3 million the week ending March 21 to 3.28 million.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.