Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced at a news conference on Wednesday that full-service restaurants struggling during the coronavirus pandemic may be eligible for government grants as high as $10,000, under a $2.2 million proposal. The program must first be approved by county lawmakers.  Credit: Newsday / Reece Williams

Full-service restaurants struggling during the coronavirus pandemic would be eligible for government-paid grants as high as $10,000, under a $2.2 million proposal unveiled Wednesday by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran.

As part of the Nassau Restaurant Recovery Grant Program, certain federal dollars received by the county would be directed to private, full-service restaurants — "the industry hit hardest by the pandemic" — during the winter months, when outdoor dining will be limited, according to Curran’s office.

"They’ve taken a huge hit," Curran said Wednesday in a phone interview before the announcement in East Meadow.

Across New York, under state order, thousands of full-service restaurants were forced to shut down all but takeout and delivery for months as the coronavirus ravaged the state, infecting 568,000 people and killing 26,189 as of Wednesday.

Restaurants were allowed to reopen, but indoor capacity has been limited to stop the spread of the virus. And though allowed to expand outdoors, restaurants have had to shell out for outdoor seating, partitions, personal protective equipment, heat lamps, and other items.

With winter coming, Curran said: "It’s gonna be rough … People don’t want to sit outside and shiver eating their filet mignon or whatever."

Applications for the program, which still must be approved by the county legislature, are to be available online starting Nov. 30. They will be accepted for two weeks, with the money to be awarded beginning in January, Curran said.

The grant comes with certain strings: The restaurants must have been in operation on or before March 1, 2019, employ 50 or fewer "full-time equivalent" employees, agree to create or keep at least one low- or moderate-income job at full-time status, and certify and demonstrate money troubles due to the pandemic.

A restaurant with up to 10 employees is eligible for $5,000. A restaurant with between 11 and 50 employees is eligible for $10,000.

"This is a grant," Curran said. "It’s not a loan."

The money is part of a pool of $9.564 million, according to Curran spokeswoman Justine DiGiglio.

It comes from the federal government’s Community Development Block Grant program, which provides money to municipalities annually to "develop viable urban communities," in part by expanding economic opportunities, Curran said.

Restaurant grant recipients in Nassau must be clear of health department violations and cannot have been found to have violated the pandemic restrictions, she said.

There are 1,366 full-service restaurants in Nassau County, according to U.S. Census data from 2018. There are 1,413 in Suffolk and 9,696 in New York City.

About 300 restaurants will be able to receive the grants, according to Curran’s office.

The money can be used for capital and operating expenses such as payroll, rent, utilities, PPE and sanitation supplies; the leasing or purchasing of equipment, and "COVID-19 related business improvements like patio heaters or contactless technology," the sheet said.

Curran said the program would be a "win-win," as it would keep people employed in the industry as well as help stimulate communities.

"When our restaurants are doing well, that helps lift up our entire downtowns," she said.

Mario Saccente, president of the Long Island chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association, said Tuesday night, "I think it’s great that someone right now on a local level, that the politicians, really realize how vital the restaurant industry is to Long Island."

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