Restaurants struggling to rehire workers when unemployment sometimes pays more

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HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — A government bailout for the unemployed may be backfiring for some local restaurants. That’s because in some cases, unemployment pays more.

Stephanie Gilbert and her husband own the Dirty Buffalo restaurants in Hampton Roads. 

As she tries to hire 100 workers this week, she tells 10 On Your Side she doesn’t blame their furloughed workers for taking a better gig — one from the government.  

“If we had the opportunity to stay at home and have a little vacation and collect a paycheck and not have to work… It’s a hard industry to work in, so I get it. I would probably rather stay at home too,” Gilbert said.

The Dirty Buffalo has three locations in Hampton Roads.

Before COVID-19, they employed 198 people. On March 18, they laid off 168.

“We have offered jobs back to 95 percent of those people…but only 68 have come back,” Gilbert said.

Some employees said they don’t feel safe yet returning to work, but others admit the increased benefits for workers provided under the CARES Act is more than they’d make going back to work.

“Guaranteeing people an additional $600 a week in unemployment insurance through the end of July I think was kind of overstepping,” Gilbert said.

As part of the terms of the program, Gilbert must have a full staff back at work eight weeks after she received the loan. That would be mid-June. Unemployment benefits are guaranteed well past that date, until July 31.

10 On Your Side asked U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine about this conflict of government programs. 

“Both programs are good and both programs are helping people, but you point out there can be a little bit of a clash between them,” Kaine said.

Kaine told WAVY they raised that disparity with the Small Business Administration.

“I would like to have these businesses be able to use the funds to get through this hard time and then to have the loans converted to a grant if they can reassemble their payroll at the end of this emergency,” he said.

He believes there should be at some reasonable time after those extra unemployment benefits end.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for work, Dirty Buffalo is hiring.


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