CHICAGO (CBS) — A key City Council committee on Wednesday agreed to a plan to continue to loosen regulations for Chicago restaurants and other businesses into 2021, in an effort to give them a bit of a financial boost during the pandemic.

Under a plan unanimously endorsed by the License Committee, every business license and public vehicle license that has expired or is set to expire between March 15, 2020, and June 15, 2021, will remain active until July 15, 2021. Those expiration dates have been extended three times already during the pandemic, according to Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno.

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Extending those license expiration dates again will make sure businesses already struggling to survive during the pandemic don’t need to worry about renewing their licenses during the challenging winter and spring months, Escareno said. It also will save them thousands of dollars in the coming months.

The city also will suspend all late fees for expired business licenses through the end of 2021.

“In order to provide as much ongoing regulatory relief as possible for the businesses that are continuing to experience closures and a lot of hurt during this pandemic, these measures need to continue,” Escareno told aldermen.

Approximately 1,000 sidewalk café permits currently scheduled to expire at the end of February 2021 would be extended until June 1, 2021, allowing sidewalk cafés to continue operating through the spring without having to renew their licenses. The city also will continue to reduce sidewalk café permit fees by 75%.

In addition, approximately 450 restaurants and bars that were allowed to expand their sidewalk cafés into private parking lots, neighboring businesses’ sidewalks, or into streets closed to traffic will be allowed to continue their expanded outdoor dining areas through the end of 2021.

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“As you know, the ability to operate outside has been a critical lifeline for the survival of … thousands of restaurants,” Escareno said.

Under the city’s expanded outdoor dining program, businesses were allowed to extend sidewalk cafés onto neighboring private property or into the street, so long as they were not blocking any neighbors’ doors or obstructing views from their windows. Sidewalk cafés also could not be expanded onto property owned by another retail food or liquor establishment.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th) said the relief efforts originally approved by the City Council during the first wave of the pandemic have been a small but vital lifeline for Chicago businesses that have been getting “killed by 1,000 cuts,” due to being forced to close or significantly scale down service in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said the coronavirus stimulus bill currently being negotiated in Washington, D.C., needs to include relief for businesses that have temporarily closed, to help them reopen down the line.

“Of course, if a restaurant closes, they don’t just get to reopen by flipping a switch. It’s much more complicated than that. They have to restaff. Employees aren’t necessarily going to hang around and wait, they will have moved on to other things,” Hopkins said. “Suppliers, purveyors, capital needs, reconnecting utilities; all of those sorts of things are issues that add to the difficulty for businesses that have temporarily closed that will eventually want to reopen.”

The extended relief measures approved by the License Committee on Wednesday will now go to the full City Council for a final vote at next week’s meeting.

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CBS 2 Chicago Staff