The House on Thursday approved more than $40 billion in COVID-19 assistance for restaurant owners who applied but were unable to receive assistance from the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The Restaurant Revitalization Fund depleted quickly as the number of applicants surpassed the number of available funds. Just after three weeks of launch, the fund aided 101,000 businesses, but left another 177,000 qualified applicants in a bind; among them were about 20,000 in California.
The bill1 passed by a vote of 223 to 203, adding another $42 billion to the restaurant fund and providing another $13 billion to other businesses still struggling to recover from the COVID-19 catastrophe.
In California, according to the California Restaurant Association2, a third of restaurants are estimated to have closed permanently due to the pandemic. Nationally, according to the National Restaurant Association3, restaurant industry sales remain down $65 billion from 2019’s pre-pandemic levels, and 90,000 restaurants nationwide are temporarily or permanently closed.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who supported the bill, said the $42 billion should be enough to provide grants to all the restaurants that applied last year for the original fund but received nothing. The grants would only be available to those restaurants that previously applied. Though pandemic restrictions have eased, Blumenauer said it was critical to help restaurants get back on their feet.
“People are still struggling to get their balance,” Blumenauer said Thursday after the vote. “COVID continues to be a wildcard in terms of challenges with health restrictions. And the supply chain has been disrupted.”
The average grant last year averaged $283,000. The amounts were calculated based on a restaurant’s 2020 shortfall in gross receipts compared to 2019, minus any funds received from PPP, with a maximum of $10 million per business and a maximum of $5 million per location.
In the Senate, two similar bills have drawn some bipartisan support. A bill4 that would designate $48 billion to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund was sponsored by Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). Six other Republicans signed on as co-sponsors. The fund was established in response to COVID-19 to make grants to eligible food and beverage operators for covering specified costs such as payroll, operational expenses, and paid sick leave. The bill designates the funding as emergency spending, which is exempt from discretionary spending limits.
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