- The RESTAURANTS Act would provide grants of up to $10 million to restaurants and bars that are part of a group of up to 20 facilities.
- The grants can be used to support payroll, benefits, mortgage, rent, utilities and other expenses retroactively to February 15, 2020, and up until eight months after the bill is signed into law.
- New restaurants that opened after January 1, 2020, would be eligible to receive grants.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives has resurrected the $120 billion RESTAURANTS Act in hopes that it has a better chance of passing the Senate under new Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
The bill would provide direct targeted relief in the form of grants and other aid to restaurants and bars that have struggled since the pandemic began almost a year ago. It was reintroduced after a 90-10 vote in the Senate yesterday supporting a budget amendment that would establish a dedicated restaurant relief fund.
The RESTAURANTS Act would provide relief to foodservice or drinking establishments that are part of a group of up to 20 facilities. Owners could apply for grants of up to $10 million to cover eligible expenses retroactively to February 15, 2020, and ending eight months after the legislation is signed into law.
These grants could be used to support payroll, benefits, mortgage, rent, utilities, building maintenance and construction of outdoor facilities, supplies (including COVID-19 protective equipment and cleaning materials), food, operational expenses, paid sick leave, debt obligations to suppliers, and any other essential expenses.
The bill includes several new provisions to help restaurants and their employees, including:
- Update the award calculation based on annual loss from calendar year 2020 rather than quarterly.
- Provide grant eligibility for new restaurants that opened after January 1, 2020.
- Provide paid sick leave as an eligible expense for employees and provide a bonus amount to cover the cost of voluntarily providing 10 days of sick leave to employees.
- Provide the U.S. Treasury Department the discretion to help reduce waste, fraud, and abuse.
- Impose reporting obligations on the Treasury Department to share who gets loans and demographic information about the recipients.
- Ensure that restaurants can use both the Employee Retention Tax Credit and the RESTAURANTS Act grant program, so long as they are not used for the same expenses.
Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss) was one of the bill’s early GOP supporters last year. In a press release on Friday, he announced that the RESTAURANTS Act is back on the table, with support from co-sponsors Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz) and Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa).
“The coronavirus pandemic continues to threaten the existence of many of America’s restaurants and the suppliers that support them,” Wicker said Friday in a press release. “Without additional targeted relief, many restaurants, especially small and independent establishments, may not survive the year because of state indoor dining restrictions. The RESTAURANTS Act would provide support to help these small businesses adapt their operations and keep their employees on the payroll as our nation works to finish the fight against COVID-19.”
The $120 billion figure falls far short of the $320 billion in aid the National Restaurant Association requested last year. But Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs for the National Restaurant Association, applauded the new proposal as “a light at the end of a long, dark winter for independent, chain and franchise restaurants that have been most impacted by the pandemic.”
“While many other industries have started to recover, the restaurant industry finished last year in a double-dip recession and with 2.5 million fewer jobs,” Kennedy said in a statement. “These grants will put even the hardest-hit restaurants on the path to economic survival.”
“Restaurants were the first industry to be shut down by the states and within days, we asked Congress for an industry-specific fund that would help sustain our uniquely social businesses, regardless of the sign on the door,” Kennedy said. “For nearly a year, the Association, our members, and hundreds of thousands of our grassroots advocates have shared our experiences with Congress. And they listened.”