Stroll the streets of Bushwick, you will find food as diverse as the more than 100,000 New Yorkers who inhabit this region. Within blocks your choices range from Mexican, Caribbean, Thai, Venezuelan, Italian, Chinese – the list goes on. Like so many New Yorkers and visitors, I had the pleasure of exploring the many small brick and mortar businesses that make this community so vibrant. Just a few weeks ago, I stood outside the brand new Tikal CafÃ© on the corner of Decatur and Knickerbocker, as Carolina Hernandez joined friends and neighbors to celebrate the fulfillment of her dream of starting her own business. Like so many others, Carolina had struggled during the pandemic. She had lost her job and decided it was time to finally take the plunge and open her own restaurant.
If Carolina had operated Tikal CafÃ© during the height of the pandemic, things likely would have been different. As the world began to shut down in early spring 2020 and ambulances plied the streets of our city, countless restaurateurs have been forced to scramble. Many have rushed to move online sales, to set up makeshift “take-out” counters, and to provide employees with masks, hand sanitizer and other protective gear. Meanwhile, Congress acted to extend disaster assistance to businesses affected by the pandemic and created the new Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to provide quick and immediate assistance. And while the program wasn’t perfect, it sent forgivable loans to more than half of all small businesses with less than ten employees in New York City, including restaurants.
What no one expected was that a year later, due to the abysmal and tragic failures of the Trump administration, America would not yet be fully reopened for business. More relief was essential. And this time, small businesses were particularly reluctant to take on new loans and needed more flexibility than the PPP offered. That’s why, as chair of the House Small Business Committee, I fought to create a new grant program that became the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) and spent $ 28.6 billion in direct injections. money to small independent restaurants. And knowing how difficult the realities of this pandemic have been for communities of color and other historically marginalized groups, we made sure that the RRF would prioritize these companies through a special application window.
The demand was overwhelming: Less than two weeks after its launch, the program received more than 266,000 applications, representing more than $ 70 billion in requested funds, nearly half of which came from women, veterans and veterans. socially and economically disadvantaged businesses. We know that restaurants here in Bushwick, across New York City, and across the country have been able to get funding.
However, the need for assistance for restaurants is greater than the initial funding offer, and it is clear that the federal government must act again. I call on my colleagues in Congress, Republicans and Democrats, to join me in passing a bill to restore the program without further delay. It’s time to heal the wounds inflicted by the pandemic, and restaurants are feeding our communities. Our neighborhoods and our economy would be sorely lost without them.
Nydia VelÃ¡zquez represents New York’s 7th Congressional District, which includes Bushwick, as well as Ridgewood, Maspeth, Williamsburg as well as parts of the Lower East Side and the East Village.
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Photos courtesy of MP VelÃ¡zquez’s office.
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