A ‘Third Way’ To Save America’s Restaurants (and Solve Hunger)
As circumstances get even more dire in the wake of the COVID-19 for restaurants and their 10 million employees, the restaurant industry is asking for a $240Bn bailout. Yet another bailout for another devastated industry… it begs the question, how much more can the U.S. government borrow/spend without risking its own economic collapse? At some point, policymakers are going to have to come up with more innovative solutions than bailouts, stimuluses and loans. Throwing money at the problem is always the most convenient answer, but is it the best answer? What if there were a “third way” to have twice the impact for half the cost?
Sometimes, combining two problems can add up to a solution. It’s a third way strategy I call “1+1=3”. Let’s do some basic math:
- The restaurant industry has 10 million workers at risk and 1 million restaurants with excess capacity. The industry is asking for a $240Bn bailout.
- At the same time as many as 50 million Americans could experience food insecurity or hunger in 2020. According to the Price of Impact Index, the cost of food security for 2–3 months is approximately $542 per household. (See my post here). Since the average household has 2.6 people, there are about 20 million households experiencing hunger. That means that the actual cost of solving hunger for every needy household in America is $10.8Bn.
A pretty obvious solution would be to “bailout” the hungry, instead of bailing out the restaurants. In other words, instead of spending $240Bn to pay restaurants for their losses, what if the government were to setup a fund to pay restaurants and their workers to feed the hungry? We could solve hunger a heck of a lot faster than food banks could, because there are 1 million restaurants (and only 200 food banks, by comparison). And at the same time, we would save millions of jobs and small businesses in the restaurant industry. For about $11Bn.
Some social entrepreneurs have already implemented a similar idea. Celebrity chef Jose Andres, whose World Central Kitchen launched a Chefs for America initiative to employ restaurant workers to make meals for the hungry, began this spring and served over 10 million meals, helping over 1,600 restaurants keep their staff busy during the economic shutdown. This was funded by private philanthropy. Meantime, five-star kitchens are opening up shop and scaling up their operations to feed hundreds of hospital employees in NYC. There are many other examples of corporate philanthropy like this. But the impact is limited because this model is purely based on volunteering and private donations.
Why not bring this concept to scale through a $11Bn government-funded “hunger bailout” to pay restaurants to feed millions of hungry families? Even if we 10x’d the bailout to $110Bn, it’s an order of magnitude less expensive than a pure restaurant industry bailout of $240Bn — and a lot more impactful for America.
As COVID-19 forces us into more dire circumstances, policy makers must come up with more innovative and cost-effective solutions. Isn’t it time for a third way?