Replenishment of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund might not be dead yet after the bill was dropped from the Congressional spending package in March: both the House and the Senate are talking about voting on additional relief for the restaurant industry this week. As first reported by Roll Call, the U.S. House of Representatives is “likely to vote” on a $55 billion COVID-19 aid package for small businesses hardest hit by the pandemic, including $42 billion for the restaurant industry.
According to a spokesperson for Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), who has rallied for the bill to be put to a vote, details are still being worked out, but it is “looking like” there will be a vote happening on Thursday. Phillips told Roll Call that he has been working with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “for months” and is hopeful that the bill would receive bipartisan support, especially after President Biden vowed to go after the criminals that have allegedly stolen billions in COVID relief funds.
The National Restaurant Association sent a letter to Congressional leadership in support of the bill if it comes up for a vote this week in either the Senate or the House, stating that nearly 20% of restaurant operators nationwide are still awaiting additional support.
“With the looming threat of another variant and growing challenges of inflation for both operators and consumers, the economic boost RRF could provide for those 177,000 restaurants would reach far into our communities,” Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs for the National Restaurant Association said in his letter to Congress “This should be the driving factor in bipartisan support for replenishing the RRF. These restaurants fighting for survival cannot go it alone any longer and should not be treated as a spot in the rear-view mirror of Congress.”
Congress has been trying to pass another round of restaurant relief for nearly a year, after the first $28 billion round of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund was depleted last spring. 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-AZ) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-PA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). 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.
But starting in January, the White House began casting doubts that any of these pieces of legislation would ever get passed, stating that the Biden administration is “looking to the future” as the economy is booming. In February, a bipartisan group of Senators tried to small business financial assistance bill to attach to President Biden’s omnibus spending package, which would be only available to restaurant and bar operators that had previously applied for relief in 2021. However, in March Senate Small Business chair Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) confirmed that restaurant relief had been dropped from the Congressional omnibus spending bill.
This latest effort could be restaurants’ last hope of passing another round of relief for the industry.
“For the 177,000 restaurants that are still awaiting RRF support, these challenges are compounded by more than six months of competitive disadvantages these restaurants face from those that received an RRF grant,” Kennedy said.
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