Bartenders and servers who have been laid off as non-essential workers during coronavirus stay-at-home orders were hopeful an industry charity could help them. But many people say they have been denied.
Katelin Ortega was a server at Punch Bowl Social in Sacramento. She lost her job when state and local health officials told bars to close. It wasn’t long before she heard about an emergency assistance program with the United States Bartenders' Guild.
The fund has received big-name donations from major breweries and distilleries, and now has more than $6 million available for out-of-work bartenders.
“It was everywhere, honestly. I was getting text messages from friends about it. It was all over social media,” Ortega said. “There were big companies that were donating to it so it seemed like a good chance to get some help.”
She applied and went through two rounds of reviews, but was denied.
Taylor Day was a part-time bartender at the Crazy Horse in Cleveland, Ohio. She says the guild was offering grants to people in need of up to $1,500. She has a five-month-old boy and doesn’t qualify for unemployment. She receives enough to pay rent from a government program. She asked the guild for $600 for food.
“I didn’t want to be greedy and I didn’t want to, like, take the full amount,” she said.
She was denied. She hadn’t been a bartender for a full year, which is one of the criteria.
While the fund has about $6 million in pledges, there have been 270,000 applications. That would be $22 each if each person were accepted.
The foundation used to hand out around 15 to 25 grants a year up to $2,500 for bartenders who had medical bills or who lost their homes to a natural disaster. That was before COVID-19. With the demand, they reduced the number to between $150 and $500, which they say will go to the neediest applicants.
“They’re not gonna make someone whole, but, man, maybe it’s enough to get some food on the table or to help offset some bills,” said Kim Haasarud, bartender’s guild board member.
USBG says it expects to award 1,000 grants worth $300,000 Monday. That’s out of 4,200 vetted applications.
Neither Ortega nor Day was sure they would apply again. Haasarud says most people should.
“What their needs were four weeks ago is probably going to be very different from four weeks from now. So if you were denied an application and your situation changes, we absolutely encourage you to apply again,” she said.
She says she expects more corporate and private donations, which will help the charity send out more approval notices. The guild has issued $150,000 in grants and expects to distribute up to $750,000 during the next two weeks.
“As our volunteer team grows and gets faster at screening, we expect to approve up to $1.5 million monthly,” said spokesman Colin Baugh.
There are 500 volunteers who are screening applications. The guild says they would be able to process more, but for every complete application, there are 10 that are incomplete or that have incorrect information.
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