Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) introduced legislation on Thursday to establish a $120 billon fund for independent food service or drinking establishments devastated from the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill, dubbed the Real Economic Support that Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed to Survive Act, or Restaurant Act, would provide grants to restaurants that are not publicly traded and have $1.5 million or less in revenue under normal circumstances.
The grant can be used to cover payroll, benefits, mortgage, rent, protective equipment, food, or other costs. It provides an addition or substitute to loans provided through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which Congress passed in the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package in March, for restaurants to spend more on overhead costs, as well as payroll.
“We found early in this crisis that the PPP program designed for small businesses didn’t work for the businesses most impacted. Not just impacted, but devastated – restaurants,” Blumenauer said on a call with reporters on Thursday.
He noted that independent restaurant revenue has been 51 percent lower than last year’s levels due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“When our restaurants are hurting, it means the economy is hurting,” Blumenauer said.
Wicker said on the call that the White House supports the legislation as well as Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), and Doug Jones (D-Ala.).
The lawmakers joined with the Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC) to unveil the legislation. The IRC was formed in March and its leadership team includes celebrity chef José Andrés.
The announcement comes after the IRC urged Congress to create a $120 billion stabilization fund in April, which was met with criticism from the National Restaurant Association and the International Franchise Association (IFA) because it left out franchisees and small chain restaurants.
Wicker’s Senate bill allows for franchisees with 20 locations or fewer to access these grants. The International Franchise Association encouraged Congress to reject the House version of the bill in a statement on Thursday.
“Congress should oppose proposals that would treat one small business differently than another small business based solely on the name on the door,” said Matt Haller, senior vice president of government relations and public affairs.
“While IFA certainly supports providing relief to America’s restaurant industry, we encourage Congress to consider a more broad-based recovery program,” he added.
Wicker mentioned on the call on Thursday that the National Restaurant Association was involved with this legislation.
“I can say that we brought this together with the National Restaurant Association. We’re on the same page with regards to this proposal,” Wicker said.
The National Restaurant Association released a statement on Thursday that it is pleased with the bill because it reflects its proposal to Congress sent on March 18, which called for a $240 billion recovery fund for restaurants.
“The introduction of this bill provides hope of survival for small business restaurant owners from the smallest towns to the broadest urban streets. It will help these struggling businesses, regardless of the sign on the door, who are still facing a difficult and uncertain future,” Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs, said in a statement.