With initial money quickly claimed, a bigger aid package introduced in Congress could mean more help for franchise restaurants
The Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which was established to disburse $28.6 billion under the federal American Rescue Plan passed by Congress earlier this year, aimed to get one of the nation’s most pandemic-crippled industries back on its feet. The money – which doesn’t have to be repaid if business owners use it for eligible expenses – quickly ran out, but now there’s a bipartisan effort afoot in Congress to refill the till.
As it turned out, 147,000 applicants from designated priority groups alone (women, veterans, and economically and socially disadvantaged groups who own struggling restaurants) put in paperwork seeking more than the initial $28.6 billion through the program overseen by the Small Business Administration. During the first three weeks restaurant owners could apply for the aid, more than 372,000 businesses (which includes non-priority owners, too) sought more than $76 billion in funds. The SBA, which reviewed and assessed the applications, realized the well was running dry in mid-May and set a deadline of May 24 for applications.
Although the initial round of funding has been exhausted, four House and Senate lawmakers have proposed a $60 billion second round of relief to owners of all sorts of eating and drinking establishments – fast food to fine dining, brew pubs and bars, franchises and independents. The Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act of 2021 was introduced this month by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Pennsylvania Reps. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat, and Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican.
“The extraordinary demand for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund shows that many more businesses still desperately need help,” Blumenauer said in a statement. “We must work quickly to replenish this critical relief program and ensure all local restaurants get the support needed to keep their doors open, pay their staff, and support the industry’s trillion-dollar supply chain that impacts every sector of our economy.”
Since the pandemic began, more than 90,000 U.S. restaurants have permanently closed, and the industry suffered one-quarter of the total job losses in the nation, according to Restaurant-Hospitality.com. Several states still have Covid-19 restrictions in place – which include limiting establishments’ seating capacity – that are making survival especially precarious.
Allowable expenses under the first Restaurant Revitalization Fund included payroll, principal, and interest on mortgages, rent, utility bills, maintenance, personal protective equipment, and food and beverage supplies. The National Restaurant Association will start a grassroots campaign to marshal widespread support for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act of 2021. The Independent Restaurant Coalition and the James Beard Foundation also have endorsed the bill, according to media reports.