Outdoor dining in Chinatown, San Francisco. (Courtesy of Travis Wise, wikimediacommons.com)

San Francisco small businesses that have fallen behind on their licensing fees during the COVID-19 pandemic can now apply for a payment plan that will allow them to stay open with a valid license.

The payment plan program is expected to apply mostly to small restaurants and other food-related businesses.

An audit by the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Environmental Health Branch and the city’s Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector found that more than 1,000 businesses fell behind during the pandemic on city permitting and licensing fees and taxes.

The businesses owe a combined $2.6 million to SFDPH and $7 million to the city, according to the two agencies.

“These flexible payment plans will help over 1,100 businesses — primarily restaurants — who fell behind on their bills during the pandemic catch up on delinquent fees while remaining open for business,” city Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said in a statement.

The city’s Board of Supervisors approved an amendment to the city’s business tax code Tuesday allowing for the payment program. Businesses had previously been required to pay their outstanding fee balance in full to keep their operating permits valid.

Businesses must enter into a payment plan by April 30, 2023, to continue operating with both valid permitting and outstanding fees that were past due prior to March 31, 2023.

Businesses on approved payment plans will be allowed to remain open provided that they stay current on their payments and comply with the plan’s other conditions.

“This new law will provide tremendous help to small businesses, especially immigrant and people of color owned businesses who have to overcome so other challenges beyond the impacts of COVID,” Supervisor Connie Chan said.

Business owners can visit https://sftreasurer.org/new-payment-plan-option-business-delinquent-sfdph-license-fees for more information about the payment plan program.