Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted yes on a bill that would provide $42 billion in relief to foodservice businesses to the two-thirds of original RRF applicants that never received funding, and an additional $13 billion to other businesses that were hit hard during the pandemic like gyms and events venues. After more than five weeks of waiting, a bill for $48 billion ($40 billion for restaurants and $8 billion for other affected industries) is finally headed to the Senate floor next week. First it will be put up for a vote to begin debating the second round of funding for restaurants: a task that will likely be an uphill battle thanks to partisan differences.
Although there was speculation that the vote on the Restaurant Revitalization Fund refill could happen as early as this week, the Senate is first voting on a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine, and the option to swiftly pass that legislation was held up by Sen. Rand Paul. The Ukrainian bill is likely to be wrapped up Monday, and following that on Tuesday or Wednesday, the Senate will vote to consider the Restaurant Revitalization Fund replenishment, which requires 60 votes. Once that occurs, the Senate will debate on the bill itself. But there is likely to be massive dissent from the right-leaning side of the aisle.
According to National Restaurant Association executive vice president of public affairs, Sean Kennedy, Republicans and Democrats disagree on how the RRF replenishment should be funded.
“Democrats are treating this as emergency spending, while Republicans want to see existing funds reallocated,” Kennedy told Nation’s Restaurant News. “Both sides have valid points, but restaurants should not be caught in the middle.”
Democrats believe that even though the country is no longer in emergency mode, that the $48 billion of funding should be treated as such because the first round of funding during the crisis could not cover all who were eligible and applied. However, Republicans want the bill to be paid for by cutting unspent COVID relief funds that had originally been allocated to state governments. Currently, $5 billion of the bill is being funded by unspent Paycheck Protection Program monies, but Republicans worry that’s not enough to offset furthering the national inflation crisis.
To pass, at least 10 Republicans would have to join the Democrats in voting for the bill and hoping that it did not impact the financial crisis too greatly, a feat which would be very difficult to achieve considering that even the Democrat-led White House wants to move forward at this point during the pandemic. But the restaurant industry is not giving up without a fight:
“This isn't a second bailout of the restaurant industry,” Kennedy said. “This is completing the mission of RRF, and fully funding and addressing the hurricane, tornado, and earthquake of a disaster that occurred to this industry two years ago, and whose effects are still being felt today.”
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