EAST HARLEM, Manhattan — Giselle Malave’s dream was to open up her own restaurant.
Four years ago, that dream came true. But now she fears she could lose everything because of the economic disaster caused by COVID-19.
She’s not alone. Malave’s neighbors, all East Harlem restaurant owners, are struggling to stay open.
Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez says the government should use these restaurants to help fight food insecurity and keep their restaurants running. His state plan is called the “I Love NY Restaurants Program.” It would partner with the New York State Restaurant Association and the NYC Hospitality Alliance to immediately give money to restaurants most in need.
“One in five restaurants are closed and will never open again. The government really needs to step in and help. It’s only going to get higher,” said Kevin Dugan from the NYS Restaurant Association.
James Gonzalez, the co-owner of La Fonda Boricua in East Harlem, said he had already repurposed his kitchen to feed thousands of seniors during COVID-19. Now Gonzalez needs help.
Rodriguez says the program would be funded through newly released FEMA money, that would reimburse 100% of the costs needed to help restaurants partner with local soup kitchens and food pantries.
“We’re certainly interested in the proposal and we are actively working to get FEMA’s approval,” said Freeman Klopott, the press officer for the New York State Division of the Budget
The “I Love NY Restaurant Program” is still just a proposal, but Rodriguez says he will push to put it in the state budget this April so the money could go to these restaurants immediately.