BALDWIN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Social distancing is putting a lot of distance between wedding receptions for caterers and independent restaurant owners who bank on busy calendars.

They say they face extinction if lawmakers don’t provide them stimulus money, like they did for the airline industry in April.

The ballroom has been empty since mid-March at the Coral House in Baldwin. More than 500 events have been canceled or postponed, and the future is still in limbo.

“People are scared of it. This room holds almost 500 people, so if you put 50 people in this room, it just gets lost and it’s not really a party,” said Butch Yamali, president of the Dover Group.

At the historic Garden City Hotel, the same brides have postponed multiple times, says the hotel’s executive director of catering, Jerry Rizzo.

“Back in March, everyone was like, OK, well, we’ll get a summer date, and then summer comes along and things are no better, so now they are looking into 2021 and in a couple cases 2022,” Rizzo told CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff. “I kind joked about it, that I went from director of catering to director of postponements and cancellations.”

It’s no joking matter for a ravaged industry that’s one of the nation’s largest employers.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

“We are the worst, we are by far the worst,” Yamali said. “I know people in the industry who say they will never open again.”

There’s now a proposed rescue in Congress for caterers and independent restaurants.

Congressmen Tom Suozzi of Long Island and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon are proposing $120 billion in grants aimed at saving the half a million businesses.

“Unless we do something extraordinarily powerful to protect them, we are going to have perhaps 80 or 85% of the independent restaurants close permanently before the end of the year,” Blumenauer said.

“The idea of the grant is to provide a grant directly to restaurants and caterers that looks to cover the difference between their 2019 and their projected 2020 revenues,” Suozzi said.

With nearly a quarter of the nation’s job losses, the industry argues federal help will have a trickle-down effect, saving 11 million jobs and related main street businesses, like florists, formal wear stores, limo services, bakeries, music and more.

“If we don’t help this industry, the future of this country is very bleak,” said Mickey King, with the New York Restaurants Association.

There’s an urgent effort to drum up bipartisan support.

Many restaurants and caterers did receive Paycheck Protection Program loans, which have run out before some of the businesses have even reopened.

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