A bipartisan group of senators — including U.S. Senate committee on small business and entrepreneurship chair Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — introduced legislation Saturday to add $48 billion in emergency funding to the depleted Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The group of senators sought unanimous consent to pass the funding legislation but were blocked by an objection.
“Congress cannot mistake the hopeful signs of recovery for proof that restaurants are back to where they were before the pandemic,” Cardin said in a statement. “Restaurants nationwide remain buried under more than 18 months of debt, and they are struggling to rehire staff and purchase supplies. This bill will guarantee funding to the nearly 180,000 applicants that have yet to receive grants. This can wait no longer, and I regret that my unanimous consent request was objected to today. It is my fear that if Congress fails to act, many of our most cherished restaurants will not survive.”
During the first round of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, more than 278,000 applications were submitted, but the U.S. Small Business Administration was only able to fund approximately 101,000 businesses. An unknown number of businesses had their promised funds rescinded following the outcome of multiple lawsuits filed by white male restaurant owners claiming that the prioritization of women, minority groups, and veterans was discriminatory.
This is the third attempt Congress has made to introduce a replenishment for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which closed its round one portal on July 14 after funds were depleted earlier this summer. In June, Congress introduced the Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act of 2021 to replenish the fund with $60 billion, but the legislation was never voted on.
In July, Republican Congressman and ranking member of the House Committee on Small Business, Blaine Luetkemeyer, introduced similar legislation — the ENTRÉE Act — that would also add $60 billion funds to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. This replenishment, in contrast, would be accounted for with funding provided by unspent Economic Injury Disaster Loans and state and local funds from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan.
“These small businesses have already suffered 17 months of losses and are now desperate for help as they face rising food costs and a new wave of consumer hesitancy,” Erika Palmer, executive director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition said in a statement. “The Restaurant Revitalization Fund gave over one hundred thousand businesses and the millions of people they employ a fair shot at survival. That initial program was, in Senator Schumer’s words, a down payment for a much needed, larger investment.”
This call for emergency Restaurant Revitalization Fund grants comes as COVID-19 cases continue to rise and the CDC just issued a statement recommending vaccinated people to start wearing masks again indoors in certain areas of the country as the Delta variant surges.
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