Congress provided $ 28 billion to save restaurants. He is running out

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Restaurants and bars desperate for a lifeline during COVID-19 have swarmed to ask for a new government grant to help them pay rent, utilities, supplies and payroll. In just 10 days, the Small Business Administration received 266,000 requests asking for $ 65 billion in aid, more than double the amount provided by Congress.

Industry lobbyists and activists, who spent a year asking Congress for help before lawmakers acted earlier this year, are already asking them to replenish the fund and keep very local restaurants afloat. appreciated as the economy begins to recover. A bipartisan group of representatives and senators are joining their call and are already working to persuade colleagues to put more money into the fund.

“There is really a national desire to do this, and there is no part of the country where this support is not really needed and strongly supported,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Who works with House and Senate leaders. to replenish the fund.

Perhaps no industry has been hit as hard by COVID-19 economic shutdowns as restaurants and bars. People largely stayed at home and were warned to avoid crowded areas where they should take off their masks. Many restaurants have tried to switch to take-out which requires less staff, set up expensive outdoor dining areas, or hibernated through the winter hoping they could reappear in the spring. But many did not succeed.

More than 110,000 restaurants closed in 2020 and 500,000 are in dire straits, according to a November survey by the National Restaurant Assn. Thirty-seven percent of operators said their restaurant was unlikely to be still in business for six months from October without additional government support, according to the survey.

With more people getting vaccinated and venturing out in public with the restrictions relaxed in California, the grant is a lifeline, said Fernay McPherson, 43, owner of Minnie Bell in Emeryville.

She plans to use the grant of over $ 100,000 she received to hire staff, buy supplies, pay rent, and whip up an abundance of her signature Rosemary Fried Chicken when the food market where she operates picks up. seven days on seven.

“I really want to be able to focus on opening the state in June,” she said.

Without the money, she would wonder whether to close or take out loans to keep the business open.

“We would try to get ourselves out of a hole for sure,” McPherson said.

The $ 28.6 billion restaurant revitalization fund created as part of the US bailout allows restaurants, food trucks, bars, bakeries, breweries and wineries to apply for grants equal to their loss of revenue from the pandemic – up to $ 10 million per company and $ 5 million per location.

Money does not have to be refunded if it is used before March 11, 2023 for payroll, mortgage, rent and utility payments, to build outdoor seating, or for business supplies , including safety gear, food, and supplier payments.

Congress provided billions of dollars in similar relief to business owners at the start of the pandemic through the Paycheck Protection Program’s forgivable loans, but many restaurateurs have said restrictions on how l money could be spent, especially the focus on payroll versus other business expenses like rent and payment for supplies, meant that while they could pay employees, they didn’t the resources to keep their businesses open.

So the industry lobbied Congress to create a program specifically for restaurants, bars and related businesses, which was included in the economic aid package adopted in March. It started accepting applications on May 3.

In the first week, the Small Business Administration issued 16,000 grants totaling $ 2 billion. As of Wednesday, 21,000 grants totaling $ 2.7 billion had been awarded, with more than 250,000 applications pending. By law, the program must prioritize businesses owned by women, veterans, and socially and economically disadvantaged people for the first 21 days, after which the money is first come, first served.

The $ 71,850 grant that Hang Truong, 48, owner of Noodle Girl, received will help his Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco move more firmly into meal kits and delivery while waiting to see if patrons in the area. catering are coming back. She’s trying out delivery apps, a new menu, marketing, and even experimenting with different delivery boxes – all of which take money her business doesn’t have on hand a year after a pandemic that started with it. that she must have thrown away thousands of pounds of food. it went wrong the first few weeks.

“Anything that needs to change in the business needs money,” Truong said in an interview. “We don’t have a lot of money around.”

Unlike the Paycheck Protection Program, where billions were quickly snatched away by larger companies with well-established relationships with banks, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund has been split into pools to ensure businesses of all sizes get loans. A pool of $ 500 million was set aside for applicants with gross receipts in 2019 of less than $ 50,000, $ 5 billion for those with gross receipts of $ 500,000, and $ 4 billion for applicants with gross revenue in 2019 reached $ 1.5 million.

News that submitted nominations already far exceeded the funds available immediately prompted industry organizations to sound the alarm bells.

“Right now, SBA has over $ 36 billion in claims from struggling small independent businesses that won’t receive funding,” said National Restaurant Assn. spokesman Sean Kennedy said in a statement.

The groups have yet to put a dollar figure on how much they want Congress to provide to replenish the fund, nor the members of Congress.

Blumenauer said members got 20% of what they originally asked for in the March legislation and knew they might have to approve more money once their colleagues see how popular the grants will be.

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