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Round two of the RRF has been in the wings for eight months.

Restaurant Revitalization Fund efforts ramp up again as time is ticking for restaurant relief

Several elected representatives are trying to add restaurant relief to President Biden’s March 11 omnibus spending package

Congressional representatives, led by Senate Small Business chair Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Maryland) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) are working on a small business financial assistance bill to attach to President Biden’s omnibus spending package, which needs to be passed by March 11 to avoid a federal government shutdown, according to reporting from Roll Call and an earlier article from The Washington Post.

When reached for comment on details of the spending bill, Sen. Cardin did not respond in time for publication, but he did tell Roll Call that the main purpose of the spending package would be to revive the second round of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, with additional smaller pieces of funding available for other types of small businesses that could include entertainment venues, gyms, and hotels.

“The next train looks like it's going to be the omnibus, so yes I'm pushing hard to include it in the omnibus," Cardin told Roll Call.

The first round of the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund was “meant as a down-payment,” Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer previously told The New York Times. After the RRF portal opened last year, the fund quickly ran out of money in May 2021. While many restaurant operators were too late to snag funding, other business owners had their applications accepted and then their funds later rescinded due to the outcome of discrimination lawsuits filed against the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Since then, there have been several attempts over the past eight months to get a second round of relief passed for restaurants, like the $48 billion bill introduced by Sens. Cardin (D-Md.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) last summer that was blocked by unanimous passage, and the Republican-led Entrée Act, also introduced last summer.

If this new aid package for small businesses were to pass, there would be no new application or approval process for restaurants, and it would only be available for restaurant and bar operators that had previously applied for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

“The details will come out in due course, but the purpose is that those that were in line, that qualified and would have gotten it but for either the fact that they were a little late getting in the line or the courts pushed them to the back of the line, they would get their funds,” Cardin said.

Although a total number has not yet been reached, it would likely not go above $48 billion, which the Independent Restaurant Coalition estimates is the cost of funding for eligible applicants that have not yet been funded.

 "The Biden Administration needs to finish what it started and let the Restaurant Revitalization Fund continue to save jobs across the country,” Erika Polmar, executive director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition said in a statement. “Republicans and Democrats in Congress and mayors and governors across the country all agree that urgently processing the remaining 177,000 applications from restaurants which asked for help last Spring is necessary for our neighborhoods and the economy.”

Other Congressional representatives are pushing for a $60 billion version of the restaurant relief fund, like Rep. Joseph Morelle (D-N.Y.) who joined in his colleagues this week in calling upon President Biden to pass restaurant relief soon.

“The restaurant industry has been devastated by the pandemic, and there is a critical need for additional relief,” Rep. Morelle said in a statement. “Small businesses like restaurants are cornerstones of our local economy, and they need our help. I’m calling for immediate action to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and I will continue advocating for solutions to help restaurants get through these challenging times.” 

But throughout this push for more funding from both sides of the aisle, the White House has pushed back. In January, White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated that they just passed an enormous restaurant relief package last year and that they don’t “predict [more relief coming] at this moment in time,” since the economy is now booming.

“It's hard to argue the economy is roaring back when hospitality unemployment is double the national average and restaurant sales are the lowest they've been in seven months,” Polmar said. “The impact of record-high inflation on the average restaurant, who can barely afford to buy basic supplies like cooking oil and eggs, will be far worse than this relatively small amount of additional government spending."

Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @joannafantozzi

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