Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) is expected to schedule a vote next week on replenishing the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), the grant program that has left 177,000 restaurant applicants without help after doling out $28.6 billion in three weeks.
The bill, backed by the powerful Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), would allocate an additional $40 billion in funding specifically for restaurants, with an additional $8 billion going to other businesses that have been affected. particularly difficult by the pandemic. These other businesses include gymnasiums and minor league sports teams.
The RRF’s administrator, the US Small Business Administration, said at the time of the program’s suspension that it would maintain applications and provide funding to restaurants in the order that their applications for assistance were processed.
A bill to replenish the RRF with $42 billion in funding was passed by the US House of Representatives in early April. It also calls for providing aid to restaurants that failed to secure a grant before the program ran out of money.
Like the Cardin-Wicker bill, the House measure also allocates funds to businesses outside of the restaurant business, in this case $13 billion. The legislation specifies that any remaining money from that $13 billion would be used to provide assistance to restaurants that did not apply for an RRF grant in the first round.
Industry officials have warned that tens of thousands of restaurants would likely be forced to close without federal assistance. This claim argues that many operators have failed to fully recover from the pandemic and many are now struggling to make rent and debt service payments that were deferred while dining halls were closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
But that warning of widespread carnage was disputed by many inside and outside Washington, DC. Even the White House has denigrated the need to allocate more money to the RRF, saying the restaurant industry got its direct help in the first round.
Democratic senses Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia have also publicly indicated they will not support a takeover. For the Cardin-Wicker bill to fly, it would need the vote of 50 senators to pass, even if the filibuster rule were suspended. Without Sinema and Manchin voting yes, the odds are slim. (Although Wicker wrote the portion of earlier legislation that created the RRF, he voted against the measure.)
Other opponents say an increase in direct aid would add a boost to a historic rate of inflation, which the White House says is now the nation’s most pressing economic problem.
“Taking control of the upward spiral in prices requires aggressive intervention by the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates and sell off its bond holdings, with all the inherent risks of recession,” the Chicago Tribune said in an op-ed released today. . “The disbursement of further federal aid would only undermine this effort and make inflation harder to combat.”
“While we sympathize with all economic operators who have struggled to cope with COVID-19, another relief act for restaurants, bars and similar public places is too much. The days of new federal cash spending are over,” the editorial asserted.
For these reasons, lobbyists are reserved in their assessment of the chances of the Senate bill. Still, the National Restaurant Association, the Independent Restaurant Coalition and other industry groups are urging their members to lobby their senators to vote yes.
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