A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate have proposed giving a $60 billion cash boost to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, according to a statement released Thursday.
The Small Business Administration launched the program on May 3 with $28.6 billion for hard-hit food-service businesses like bars, restaurants, and caterers--and got more than $65 billion in funding requests within two weeks. The program received 362,000 applications within three weeks of opening but nearly $50 billion in funding requests it can't fill.
Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), along with Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), are leading the Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act, which Blumenauer introduced in the House Thursday. Sinema introduced a Senate version on Thursday as well.
"The Restaurant Revitalization Fund provided a lifeline for America's small and independent restaurants," Wicker said in the statement. "Our restaurants are now beginning to recover from a year of lost revenue, but many establishments are still hurting and have not been able to access aid for which they are eligible. Replenishing this fund would help restaurants, their staff, and the broader food supply chain as they continue to get back on their feet."
According to a Democratic House staffer with knowledge of the legislation, the sponsors are looking to get it passed as quickly as possible, potentially by attaching it to "any moving [bill] in Congress."
While there's no timeline for when it might advance, advocates for the food-service industry are pushing to speed things up. "Every member of Congress has got their favorite restaurant back home," says Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs for the National Restaurant Association. "And we are going to speak with one voice and make sure Congress is hearing this is not something that can wait another 12 months if they want to make sure their favorite local restaurant is not going to close."
To be eligible for Restaurant Revitalization Fund grants, food-service businesses were required to sell to the public onsite, and those sales needed to account for a minimum of 33 percent of gross receipts. Applicants also had to have fewer than 20 locations and have been in operation on March 11, 2021. The maximum amount of a grant was $10 million, with no more than $5 million per location. Businesses could only use the money for specific purposes including rent and PPE. Inc. reached out to the SBA to ask if requirements could change if the new funding goes through but did not receive a response.
For the first 21 days of the fund, only businesses majority-owned by veterans, women, and socially or economically disadvantaged individuals could apply. Minority businesses in particular struggled to stay open during the pandemic and access Paycheck Protection Program funds.
As the lawmakers noted, the industry isn't out of the woods yet: As of March, the food-service industry had 1.7 million fewer jobs than it did pre-pandemic. "Most operators are still well below normal staffing levels and are not on a path to sustained profitability for the year," the National Restaurant Association said in a statement supporting the bill.