The Senate declined to advance the bipartisan $48 billion Small Business COVID Relief Act (which included a $40 billion replenishment of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund) in a vote on Tuesday. The bill received 52 “yes” votes, which was eight votes shy of the amount needed to begin debate on the bill.
This is likely the death knell for the replenishment bill, which was first proposed last summer and would have funded the 265,000 restaurant and bar operators that applied and were denied funding (more than two-thirds of total applicants).
“Today, a Senate filibuster dashed the promise made to more than 177,000 small business owners in communities across the country” Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs for the National Restaurant Association said in a statement. “These restaurant owners believed the creation of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund was a down payment, and that the Senate would complete the mission with this vote […] While there are valid questions about government spending and inflation, restaurants should not be caught in the crossfire.”
Dissenting Republicans voted against advancing the bill to the floor for debate because it would have been largely deficit funded (with only $5 billion of the $48 billion in total being backed by unused pandemic relief funds),
“I think we've been talking to restaurant people about this issue; then we talk to the hospital people about needing money,” Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) told Roll Call earlier this week. “If you respond to all these — and I think it might be unfair to respond to one, rather than all of them — you could easily have another trillion-dollar package.”
Other Republican Senators, including Mitt Romney (R-Utah), claimed in interviews with Roll Call that they were not aware of the bill, but would likely vote against it.
On the other side of the aisle, Democrats believed that even though the country is no longer in emergency mode, that the $40 billion of funding should be treated as such because the first round of RRF funding during the crisis could not cover all who were eligible and applied.
Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to move the RRF replenishment to the Senate.
During the last round of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund in May 2021, the U.S. Small Business Administration at first wanted to prioritize businesses owned by women, minorities and veterans, but after a series of discrimination lawsuits, were required to abandon this prioritization. As a result, many businesses that were awarded RRF funding controversially had their grants rescinded.
This is not the first time over the past year that restaurants have gotten their hopes up for a restaurant relief refill.
In June, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act of 2021 was introduced as a $60 billion piece of legislation in a bipartisan effort by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Roger Wicker (R-Minn.) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.). Other efforts included House Republicans introducing similar legislation — the ENTRÉE Act — which would have added $60 billion funds to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, with funding provided by unspent EIDLs and funds from Biden’s American Rescue Plan, and another piece of legislation introduced by Senate Democrats that would have added $48 billion in emergency funding to the depleted Restaurant Revitalization Fund.
This final vote on Thursday was the last hope for restaurants.
“Neighborhood restaurants nationwide have held out hope for this program, selling their homes, cashing out retirement funds, or taking personal loans in an effort to keep their employees working and their doors open,” Erika Polmar, Executive Director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition said in a statement. “We estimate more than half of the 177,300 restaurants waiting for an RRF grant will close in the next few months as a result of Congressional inaction.”
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