Tag Archives: # CARESAct

An Open Letter to Hoteliers

“Tough times never last but tough people do” – Rev. Robert H. Schuller

In these tough times, Prince Organization, run by fellow Indian Sunil Tolani, has stepped up and applauded his hotel staff for their work on the frontlines. Frontline staff encompasses a multitude of industries, yet hotel staff seem to be lost in the bevy of healthcare-related professions. Here is an open letter to those in the hotel industry, providing a safe space for the homeless, vulnerable, and sick populations, for little to no compensation. Thank you for all that you do!

Dearest Prince Organization Team/ Hoteliers,

I hope this message finds you healthy and safe during these trying times of dealing with fundamental uncertainty. For the first time in modern history, the world is at the mercy of a virus that knows no rank and no title. The world is united in our shared experience of pain. But during all this sorrow, I really believe the entire world is also united in a shared prayer praying for relief and going through something that is globally profound.

We live in unprecedented times when, for the first time in over 100 years, the country is almost shutdown. Over 275 Million Americans are at home. Times like these tests one’s spirit and fortitude as those of us that are in the hospitality industry face challenges we have never seen before. We have managed through the recession of 2008-2010 but this is unlike any economic enemy we have dealt with in the past. This health crisis has created an economic catastrophe of historic magnitude. We are in a deep freeze and it is bone-chilling. The US was on a good roll and then came March.   

At LAX airport on January 21st, I heard the morning news of the first coronavirus case in the U.S. and the first words were “Oh, No—Holy Cow,” March began with a booming economy riding an 11-year economic expansion with unemployment at 50 years low and the #1 worry for employers was finding employees to fill positions. The Dow Jones was flirting with 30000.

March 3rd, the federal government announced an emergency rate cut. March ended, ravaging personal and professional lives, bringing the economy to a standstill. A new reality was gripping the nation: 10 million jobs were lost, the Dow at 21917, airlines on the verge of bankruptcy and American icons of commerce shutting down, and countless small enterprises failing.

As of this weekend, over 20,000 Americans were dead with the toll expected to increase exponentially in the coming weeks. Retail centers and malls, restaurants, gyms, parks, schools and universities, places of Vice and Worships, and millions of other “nonessential” businesses shut down, movie theaters dark, professional sports suspended, and the Olympics postponed. A couple of months ago, we were afraid if we saw somebody with a mask on, now we are afraid if they do not have the mask on. The buzzwords were communal, sharing, and now the word is social distancing.

The nation has made a call to us Hoteliers, essential businesses, to remain open. On the frontlines, you are doing a fantastic service to the country. You agreed on “what can we do to help here” driven by your faith and sense of duty preparing for the worst-case scenario but hoping for the best-case scenario dodging the coronavirus bullet. THANK YOU for doing your part in supporting your community. Providing medical and emergency personnel with FREE rooms and at deeply discounted rates to keep your hotels humming along with positivity. Unlike others, we did not shut down or walk away nor cut fast and cut deep. The communities value and admire your commitment and dedication.

We are grateful for the bravery and sacrifices of our hotel staffs, women are over 70% majority. We are not doctors, nurses, firefighters, or policemen but like them, we too are on the front lines to help and offer comfort and solace, shelter at the hotels. It is way economical and makes total financial sense to shut down our hotels, but we are open for our communities, keeping our neighborhoods running and making our guests feel like home. The pandemic has dramatically enlivened our company’s workforce. The word is proud. We feel enormously proud of what we are doing.

Hotels are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We are a symbol of our people’s resilience, as we never close. This is a very unsettling time – both physically and emotionally. We are concerned about our health and that of our family, friends, and co-workers. We are uncertain of when this will end and what the future will look like. We are also uneasy because in hospitality what we do is take care of guests and we are virtually unable to do that now with limited services. We do our best as we dig deep within ourselves and muster all the perseverance and grit, we can. We must continue to live our values of being humble, caring, and kind, and apply them to our new circumstances and to the team members. Every day you are at your Hotels, you contribute with pride and purpose. 

The devastation that coronavirus has rained on the world, from a business perspective, is something we have never experienced. Local restrictions combined with the nearly complete drop in business levels require the temporary suspension of brand standards at many of our hotels franchised hotels. The financial loss to continue to operate these hotels will be anyone’s guess and extremely severe to cause even more damage to the company long-term. While there is much uncertainty remaining on how long our lives and business will be disrupted and what the recovery will look like, we do know the economic hit to the company will be significant. That is why we are taking aggressive steps to manage controllable expenses limiting operations and managing expenses as well.

We are making the tough decisions needed to weather the storm that is wreaking havoc on our country by waiting longer to pay suppliers, shutting down floors, saving electricity and utilities, ordering in limited supplies, and re-evaluating capital investments. These decisions do not come easily, but it is our belief that by making these decisions now it will allow us to be properly positioned for recovery after the war on this enemy is won. Almost every variable is changing and the disastrous negative impact on our business in so many ways cannot yet be fully quantified. Simply put, we need to watch our cash management as we did not budget for a close to a zero-revenue scenario.

Of course, none of the excellence, passion, and grit in the face of the adversity brought on by the virus surprised me. That is simply our character, and the pressure we already deal with on a day to- day basis not only reveals it; it forged it. Through the sheer power of our perseverance and with our collective character as a guiding light, that is exactly what we will continue to do as long as it aligns with our three North Stars — the health and safety of all team members and our valued guests.

Thankfully, we are not aware of any of our team members who have contracted the virus. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who are experiencing the virus themselves or who have family or friends with it. I am grateful we have no cases of this insidious disease. We will see this through. One lesson from the virus is the realization of how connected we all are. While we find ourselves physically separated from each other, it is with a sense of community that we will meet these challenges and overcome them. We will continue to care for each other, and when people start to travel again — and they will — we will do what we do best — welcome them like family. Treat them like family, Once again.

We could not be any prouder of the character, generosity, and resilience exhibited by our team members over the last four weeks. Let us pray and look forward with positivity to a day where Coronavirus is a distant memory, a day when our hotels are filled with traveling guests and your break rooms are filled with laughter.

Dear heroes of the frontlines – continue to be strong, positive, and kind. Our spirit will prevail. History tells us that we will survive. Let us pray, stay calm, and stay true to our true values to weather the storm. I can feel the purpose-driven nature, the camaraderie, and the coming together of our company. You are playing a vital role with government employees, social workers, medical workers who are coming into your towns to stay with you and depend on your hotels. I have come across many noble acts of public service that you are performing at your hotels. Your true character reveals for what you are and have always been: HERO’s. 

I am foregoing my entire salary for the rest of 2020 and even 2021. In a time of crisis, we have to transcend and come together for the greater good. Please continue to take care of yourselves and your loved ones. The journey is painful and we hope in the years to come, you will be testing the limits of a new world, as each and every one of you will be able to take pride in how you responded to this crisis. I am hanging in there with you all, PRAYING.

Sunil Tolani

Sunil “Sunny” Tolani is the CEO of Prince Organization. His passions include charity, empowering youth with educational and vocational training, humanitarian work on sexual harassment and domestic violence, prison reform, wage equality for women, and LGBT rights.

They Found A Way To Say I Do

The owner of Silver Spoon, Vidya Gurikar, listened in horror as Governor Gavin Newsom effectively shut California down. Her son’s wedding, set for April 18th, was exactly a month away. The threat of cancellation now hung in the air. Her son, Shreyas, whose wedding it was, worked in the business with her, a small business that – wait for it – catered weddings.

As a high-end gourmet catering company, Silver Spoon faced cancellation of all client celebratory events. The company must pivot if they have to survive.

Vidya stepped up her takeout business. Their small business had a mortgage on the commercial kitchen to pay, and staff to keep employed. Spring harvest celebrations like Ugadi and Gudi Padwa have prescribed sweets and dishes. Client orders poured in. Vidya took to scouring grocery stores very early in the morning to gather ingredients, sometimes going to five different grocery stores to cook one takeout menu. Shreyas’ wedding had still not been canceled. March threatened to roll into April and the end of the shutdown was not in sight.

Congress passed the CARES Act on March 27 promising small businesses like Silver Spoon some reprieve. Potentially forgivable loans were available at low rates of interest. However very few saw the money before the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was exhausted. Crowdsourced database COVID Loan Tracker showed that only about 5 (or five percent) of those who applied for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan say they’ve received one. Less than 9 percent of the Protection Payment Plan monies went to the small businesses in food services.

Distribution of Protection Payment Plan

Funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, the federal government’s big initiative to aid small businesses and their employees during the coronavirus lockdown, ran out of cash within two weeks of funds opening on April 3.

On Friday, April 17, at a Zoom briefing update on the Pandemic Impact on Ethnic Populations organized by Ethnic Media Services and sponsored by the Blue Shield of California Foundation—Congressman Ro Khanna, who represents California’s 17th District in the heart of the Silicon Valley high-tech hub where Silver Spoon’s customers live, spoke of the need to increase help to small businesses and workers in essential businesses. “In an age of automation, we are reminded of the dignity and importance of work that is not remote,” said Representative Khanna.

“This crisis needs to open our eyes to the value of workers who are often invisible, and we need to give them the pay and benefits they deserve.” Along with United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Khanna has made a proposal for an Essential Workers Bill of Rights to protect frontline workers during the coronavirus pandemic. They have requested that the next coronavirus relief package to pass Congress must include the policies in the Essential Workers Bill of Rights.

Congressman Khanna and Representative Tim Ryan from Ohio, also have introduced the Emergency Money for the People Act to provide additional cash payments for hard-working Americans who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The one-time payment under the CARES Act does not provide nearly enough support for American families like Vidya Gurikar’s.

There are a number of undocumented workers working in the food industry. Panelists at the EMS briefing feared that undocumented workers, who have long been understood to be a backbone of the California restaurant industry, will receive no relief if they have no social security number.

Regardless of their immigration status, workers should be helped said Assemblymember David Chiu. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) will provide $125 million in stimulus checks to undocumented workers. The PUA benefits are payable if you don’t qualify for regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits in California or another state, and also do not qualify for State Disability Insurance or Paid Family Leave benefits.

California will give 150,000 undocumented adults a one-time cash benefit of $500 each with a cap of $1,000 per household. Undocumented workers, who are not eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or unemployment insurance due to their immigration status, form nearly 10 percent of California’s workforce, said Governor Newsom. They are “overrepresented” in sectors that have been deemed essential such as healthcare, agriculture and food services, manufacturing and logistics.

Since the pandemic hit California, other grassroots financial assistance programs have been created for undocumented workers affected by COVID-19-related job losses in San Francisco and Sonoma County. A relief fund for local migrant youth was launched in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, and Alameda counties, and recently reopened its application process.

The question that remains unanswered though is how does an undocumented worker get the monies. This is not yet clear. The state’s funds will be dispersed through regional nonprofits who have experience serving undocumented communities, and personal information from undocumented workers will not be required.

Vidya and her son Shreyas have decided to go ahead with the planned wedding. It will be a quiet ceremony in the backyard.

Orange flowers, traditional color for a Hindu wedding, festoon the metal pagoda set up beneath the tall pine tree. Fragrance of the peach-tree blossoms drops down onto the blades of lemongrass. Mint shoots sparkle green. Wooden figures playing traditional musical instruments line up under the tree, guests at the family-only garden wedding.

The bride, resplendent in a red saree, looks worriedly at the images of her parents’ Zoomed in from India. The groom, handsome in a long golden sherwani coat adjusts the turban on his forehead as he sits on an orange and black chair beneath a curtain of marigold-orange flowers. Flowers, red, yellow and orange, sway in the breeze. It is a celestial wedding remarked a guest in India later that day, when she saw the photographs.

Outside the house, colorful sweets peep out of the windows of the red sweet boxes nestled under the cherry tree. Yellow mango burfi fudge, white milk balls with black crispy crusts soaking in sugar syrup, a caviar of fragrant, sweet chickpea boondi droplets, a cloud of white, milky sweetness, encased in a pillow of white rasgulla cheese sponge, – the sweets are for the friends of Silver Spoon.

Armed with bells and Bluetooth speakers that blast out celebratory music, masked friends of Silver Spoon and its owners drive by waving to the newly married couple who appear at the door, flanked by the groom’s parents. Standing six feet apart, some friends break into a spontaneous dance.

Resilience is the hallmark of the immigrant. In the face of all odds, pirouetting small businesses will spin to the post-corona economy’s dance-tune. Governor Gavin Newsome, Congressman Ro Khanna – you are invited to join the dance.

Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.