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Lightfoot Proposes Financial Relief, Cutting Red Tape For Businesses In Hopes Of Helping Them Recover From Pandemic

The 15 percent cap on third-party delivery fees would stick around and sidewalk signs would be allowed under a proposal from Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Balmoral Avenue near Clark Street is closed to traffic for expanded outdoor dining for the Replay, Hamburger Mary's and Vincent restaurants in the Andersonville neighborhood on Wednesday, June 24, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — A slew of proposed business reforms could cut down on red tape and help restaurants, bars and shops recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot will introduce the proposed measures Wednesday at City Council. The changes are meant to help businesses recover from the pandemic in various ways: Cocktails to-go could become permanently legal to help restaurants and bars, and A-frame sidewalk signs would be allowed so shops can advertise, for example.

The 15 percent cap on third-party delivery fees would also stick around for longer, helping restaurants and bars that have struggled to make a profit when using services like DoorDash and Uber Eats.

The package is part of Lightfoot’s Chi Biz Strong initiative, which uses lessons learned from cutting red tape during the pandemic to try to help businesses as Chicago reopens, according to a Mayor’s Office news release.

“In order to recover from this pandemic quickly and holistically, we must take bold action and reimagine how we do business here in Chicago,” Lightfoot said in the news release. “Over the last 14 months, we have learned so much — including that the way we typically do business does not work for all entrepreneurs and workers.

“Now is our opportunity to address the structural inequities that have held us back for so long and create a post-pandemic world that fully supports small businesses across the city, protects workers, and above all, roots equity and inclusion within our city’s economy.”

Lightfoot’s also proposing several changes that could benefit workers, like creating the city’s first wage theft ordinance in a bid to better protect workers from having their wages held back or stolen in other ways by employers.

But some of the measures would also take some decision-making power away from aldermen, meaning parts of the package could face pushback.

One proposal calls for expediting permits to businesses that want to put up a sign or awning. It’d shave one to two months off the time businesses typically have to wait to get the OK for those changes, according to the Mayor’s Office. But it’d also mean aldermen wouldn’t have as much ability to approve or strike down big signs and awnings in their wards.

The measures will need City Council approval to become reality.

Here’s a breakdown of the proposed changes for businesses:

  • Licensee Relief Program: More than $10 million in grants will go to businesses “particularly impacted by the pandemic,” according to the Mayor’s Office.
  • Cap on Third-Party Delivery Fee: The 15 percent cap on fees that third-party deliver companies can charge will continue until after the city recovers from the pandemic.
  • Debt Relief Program: Businesses that have city debt can get a discounted payment plan so they can renew their licenses and continue to operate.
  • Expedited Restaurant Licenses: Restaurants that open in a space where another restaurant closed will go though an expedited process to get their license.
  • Sidewalk Signs: Street-front shops can now legally use A-frame signs to advertise their business on the sidewalk.
  • Expediting Permits For Signs, Awnings, Etc.: The city will remove the requirement that an ordinance be passed for a Public Way Use Permit to be issued if a business wants to add a sign, awning or other item.
  • Taxi Reform: The city will allow cars to stay on the road longer as long while maintaining safety standards.
  • Workforce Opportunities: More people will be allowed to work in the public vehicle and hospitality industry by lowering barriers for non-violent offenders and creating more ways for rehabilitation.

Here’s how workers could benefit:

  • Wage Theft Protections: The city would create a wage theft ordinance, giving officials “greater authority to protect its workers and recoup stolen wages for those workers,” according to the Mayor’s Office.
  • Chain Business Worker Support: Ensure workers are paid a fair minimum wage by preventing their employers within a single business group from undercounting the number of employees they have across chains.
  • Domestic Worker Support: The ordinance would require a written contract with domestic workers and put them “on the path” to a $15 minimum wage in 2021, according to the Mayor’s Office.
  • Paid Sick Leave: The city’s paid sick leave law will expand to cover mental and behavioral health and caring for a family member with a closed place of car, classroom or school.

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