(Washington, D.C.) — U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship Chair Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today sought unanimous consent on the floor of the U.S. Senate to approve bipartisan legislation to provide $48 billion in additional funding to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF). An objection to the unanimous consent motion blocked the measure from passing.
“Congress cannot mistake the hopeful signs of recovery for proof that restaurants are back to where they were before the pandemic. Restaurants nationwide remain buried under more than 18 months of debt and they are struggling to rehire staff and purchase supplies,” Cardin said. “This bill will guarantee funding to the nearly 180,000 applicants that have yet to receive grants. This can wait no longer and I regret that my unanimous consent request was objected to today. It is my fear that if Congress fails to act, many of our most cherished restaurants will not survive.”
“The Restaurant Revitalization Fund provided a lifeline for America’s small and independent restaurants, but the initial amount Congress provided was not enough to meet demand. In my home state of Mississippi, less than 27% of applicants received an award,” Wicker said. “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.”
“Arizona restaurants fuel jobs across our state, and these employers need support now more than ever. Our Restaurant Rescue Plan is getting Arizonans back to work and ensuring local Arizona restaurants can keep their doors open, and more resources are needed as we continue fueling a full economic recovery,” said Sinema.
The food services sector has been one of the hardest-hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. A National Restaurant Association study released in December 2020 found that 110,000 eating and drinking places were closed temporarily, or for good. The study also found that the sector finished 2020 nearly 2.5 million jobs below its pre-COVID level; and that up to 8 million restaurant employees were laid off or furloughed during the peak of initial closures last year.
In March 2021, Congress created RRF and appropriated $28.6 billion in funding to provide grants to eligible entities equal to their pandemic-related revenue loss up to $10 million and no more than $5 million per location. Eligible entities include restaurants, bars, food trucks and carts, brewpubs, tasting rooms, and other food services establishments. The grants may be used for eligible expenses, such as payroll, rent, and supply costs.
On June 30, SBA announced the closure of RRF due to the exhaustion of funds. SBA also announced that more than 278,000 applications were submitted to the program, but the agency was only able to fund approximately 101,000 of them.