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During the pandemic, restaurants struggled to get financial support from the federal government. When the US rescue plan’s stimulus plan, which came into effect in March 2021, included a $ 28.6 billion restaurant revitalization fund, it was considered a lifeline. In contrast to the often malicious paycheck protection program loans, this money is intended to be distributed as a grant. Not Loans, and do not have to be paid back by restaurant owners if used by March 2023. But there’s one pretty big problem: the fund, which started filing applications on May 3rd, is already running out.
According to the Los Angeles timesThe Small Business Administration, which is responsible for overseeing the program, has received more than a quarter of a million requests for funding of $ 65 billion. That is more than double the amount of money in the fund and will again result in many restaurant owners struggling to stay afloat without government aid. After a year of pandemic fighting, this is a painfully familiar feeling for restaurant owners and workers alike.
Although the restaurant industry has been harder hit than any other – with customers being told not to eat out and restaurant workers at high risk of contracting COVID-19 in confined spaces in kitchens and dining rooms, food workers and restaurant owners have not become a priority granted federal rescue packages or sector-specific aid programs. Last June, 53 percent of restaurants that have closed since March 1, 2020 have been permanently closed, according to a report by Yelp last June. Since then, the number of restaurant closings has increased every week.
Paycheck Protection Program loans, introduced last year to help restaurants meet staff costs, left much to be desired. In order for these loans to be granted, much of the money had to be used to keep staff on payroll, although limited capacity and indoor dining restrictions made it nearly impossible to keep and pay full staff. And before many small restaurant owners could even get a loan, large chain restaurants used up the fund.
For businesses receiving this final round of SBA funding, grants can match the amount of revenue a restaurant lost during the pandemic. They are $ 10 million per company and $ 5 million per location. In response to frustration at the very limited and restrictive ways to spend PPP money, restaurant owners have been given more autonomy to decide where to channel those funds in order to keep their businesses open and keep their employees busy. This huge pool of money goes a long way in propping up restaurants that continue to navigate the world of food during a pandemic.
When the program was first proposed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon last year, he was hoping the fund would distribute $ 120 billion in grants. According to the Times Blumenauer said there was an expectation that the fund would be hugely popular and that his colleagues might need to show more funds once they saw the demand for the drastically scaled-down fund that went through Congress.
Restaurant owners, lobbyists and food industry activists are frustrated that after a year of campaigning for a restaurant-specific aid fund, money will run dry again before the majority of restaurant owners have received aid. In a statement to the TimesSean Kennedy, a spokesman for the National Restaurant Association, said, „Currently, SBA has more than $ 36 billion in requests from small, troubled independent businesses that have not received funding.”
The frustration with the delay in launching the fund and the limited impact is justified. It’s equally frustrating that if the fund had received any part of the additional $ 90 billion first proposed, it still has the resources to help many more restaurants. But while the disappointment is real and the urgency is immediate, the fund has was more aware of how the existing money is being distributed. Unlike the PPP program, which left gaps for large chains to apply for huge loans (franchise locations can still apply for these grants), the Restaurant Revitalization Fund aimed to reach out to businesses that appeal to women, veterans and people Many of them have missed previous rounds of financial relief – belonging to economically and socially disadvantaged groups.
The Small Business Administration prioritized these companies by prioritizing their applications for the first three weeks of the fund’s existence. That means that, in theory, the bulk of the grants accepted will go to painters, women, veterans and others who have been hard hit by the pandemic. But it also means that countless restaurants owned by members of marginalized and downtrodden communities are still hurting and will not see a dollar in this grant round. Hopefully Representative Blumenauer was right to think that the funding would be tapered as soon as his colleagues see how urgently it is needed. Hopefully the money will come soon, because many restaurants are hanging by a thread.