Senate votes against $40 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund, dashing owners’ hopes

The US Senate on Thursday rejected a bill to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a federal grant program that supported 101,000 establishments last year but snubbed more than 177,000 eligible applicants when it ran out of funds in just three weeks. Despite having sponsors on both sides of the aisle, Senate lawyers failed to secure the 60 votes required to pass the legislation. The final vote was 52-43.

“Neighborhood restaurants nationwide have kept their hopes up for this program, selling their homes, cashing in retirement funds or taking out personal loans in an effort to keep their employees on the job,” said Erika Polmar, executive director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, in a statement. . “We estimate that more than half of the 177,300 restaurants awaiting RRF funding will close in the coming months due to Congressional inaction.”

The bill would have provided an additional $40 billion in relief to food and beverage establishments, as well as an additional $8 billion in relief funds for various small businesses, including gyms, event venues and sports teams. of minor leagues.

The Senate vote marked another disappointment for the restaurant industry, which has embarked on a months-long campaign to lobby Congress to fund the rest of the RRF nominees. A proposal to replenish the fund under an omnibus spending program had been considered earlier this yearbut was cut a week before it was passed in March.

Hopes were rekindled in early April, when the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill that would have replenished the fund. According to this bill, RRF candidates who successfully applied in 2021 would have received the amount for which they had previously applied after certifying that they were still open or would reopen in six months.

In the days leading up to Thursday’s vote, Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) said they weren’t sure they’d get all 60 votes. required to pass the legislation. IRC board member and Wilmington leader Tyler Akin had compared the quest for Senate support to a game of Whac-A-Mole.

According to Sean Kennedy of the National Restaurant Association, Democrats overwhelmingly favored the bill, viewing it as emergency spending, while Republicans expressed concerns about its contribution to inflation.

“While we have great respect for GOP positions on this and concerns about inflation, for me personally … if a natural disaster wipes out three homes in a community, the federal government is there to help. They shouldn’t just help one house and then tell the other two, “We can’t be here for you until we find offsets in other places,” Kennedy said. in a Restaurant Association report last week. “The three households should be helped. The same should apply to RRF.

In the end, five Republican senators – Sens. Roy Blunt (Missouri), Bill Cassidy (Louisiana), Susan M. Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Wicker – voted in favor of the legislation, two abstained and the others voted against, including Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania. Three Democratic senators – Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Jacky Rosen (Nevada) and Chris Van Hollen (Maryland) – abstained, while the others voted yes.

In a statement, Akin reflected on the vote, which immediately followed a bipartisan vote for send $40 billion in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine“Ironically, this filibuster follows a solidarity vote at a similar level of funding with a group of European allies who have handled some of the worst effects of the past two years with much more grace and unity,” said Akin. “It is clear that those aligned with Senator Toomey today have little to no desire to support small business.”

Rebecca Foxman fox and son in the Reading terminals market is one of 2,900 owners who have been promised RRF money which was later canceled after the legislation got entangled in lawsuits. She had no hope ahead of Thursday’s vote, but couldn’t help but be deflated by the end result.

“It’s just depressing, but I’m not surprised,” she said. Foxman said she knows several colleagues who said it would be the last straw before closing.

Restaurants have struggled in recent months with staffing, supply chain issues and inflation, adding further complications to an already difficult industry. Foxman recently gave the staff a raise, only to learn that their state health care subsidies have decreased as a result. She is struggling to find packaging and has had to raise prices.

“It’s getting harder and harder to be an operator in this industry,” she said, adding that she’s lucky to have a business degree that has helped her overcome the past few years. . She knows that the others don’t have the same advantage. “It’s really going to be small business entrepreneurs and family businesses that will be hit the hardest.”

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