WASHINGTON — Restaurants and other businesses that have survived more than two years of COVID-19 restrictions could see an infusion of federal dollars in the coming months, as long as U.S. lawmakers reach a final agreement on a multibillion-dollar package. dollars.
The United States House has approved a invoice with $42 billion for restaurants and $13 billion for a hard-hit industries program that would help small businesses that were ineligible for restaurant assistance.
This legislation, however, won the support of only six House Republicans, signaling that it lacks the necessary support in the equally divided US Senate to make it to President Joe Biden’s office.
That’s where Democratic Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin and Mississippi GOP Sen. Roger Wicker stepped in with their own bill to provide $40 billion to restaurants and $8 billion to various small businesses.
“We’re looking for a way to move this as soon as possible, because it’s pretty desperate,” Cardin said in a brief interview.
Aside from the $2 billion funding gap for restaurants, the biggest differences between the bills are how to provide money to businesses other than restaurants and how to pay legislation.
The House bill would create a $13 billion pot for businesses with 200 or fewer employees that have suffered a pandemic-related revenue loss of 40% or more. Companies would be eligible for up to $1 million each.
The Senate invoice de Cardin and Wicker would create separate pots of money for various businesses.
Two billion dollars would be available for gyms that would lose more than 25% of their income; $2 billion would be split between live event venues that have lost more than 25% of their revenue; $2 billion would be allocated to buses and ferries, including charter buses, commuter buses, school buses and passenger ferries; $1.415 billion would be distributed to very small businesses located near land border crossings closed during the pandemic; and $500 million would go to minor league sports teams that have lost at least 50% of their revenue.
Another $75 million would go to small businesses in Alaska that have been completely cut off from the rest of the country during the pandemic after borders were closed. And there would be $10 million for small businesses in similar communities in Minnesota and Washington.
“Congress took action to provide much-needed relief to restaurants and other businesses at the height of the pandemic, but the initial program left thousands of eligible restaurants and their employees without any help,” Wicker said in a statement. statement. “As our economy recovers from two difficult years, it is important to replenish this fund for the sake of fairness.”
Funding for the restaurant would go to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund that Democrats created last year in their $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.
Democratic lawmakers initially approved $28.6 billion, but more than $76 billion in demands quickly exceeded the amount of money the Small Business Administration had to send to struggling restaurants. About two-thirds of restaurants that applied to the program did not receive funding.
This has led several organizations to ask Congress to provide additional assistance to help restaurants cover payroll bills, operating expenses and construction costs for outdoor seating areas.
Mike Whatley, vice president of state affairs and people’s advocacy at the National Restaurant Association, said some restaurants were getting help while others hadn’t “created an uneven playing field”.
“These restaurants have done nothing wrong. They applied, they filled out their paperwork, they qualified and ultimately the help didn’t come,” Whatley said.
Concerns that additional federal spending for COVID-19 relief could further exacerbate record inflation don’t necessarily apply to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, he said.
Many restaurants asking for help, Whatley said, plan to use federal dollars to pay bills and other debts.
“We think for restaurants and the RRF, this should be more important than politics, this should be a bipartisan issue and Congress should understand this and do this to close the gap,” he said.
Several lawmakers have pushed back on additional pandemic spending, citing inflation and falling COVID-19 cases nationwide.
Restaurants continue to face pandemic restrictions, Whatley said, noting that Philadelphia is reinstating its mask mandate and new variations are expected to appear.
“We are undoubtedly in a much better situation than two years, even a year ago, in terms of the COVID environment. But it still hurts restaurants,” Whatley said.
Without further help from Congress, 80% of restaurants that did not receive RRF funding are at risk of closing permanently, according to a survey of the Coalition of Independent Restaurants.
Debate in the United States House on his bill, which passed following a 223-203 vote Thursday, largely centered on Republican concerns about inflation and frustrations with how the Small Business Administration has handled programs in the past.
Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, a Republican from Missouri, argued the bill was “a disingenuous attempt to introduce itself to small business.”
“Right now, small businesses need the freedom to operate independently without Washington watching them,” he said. “We need to end the COVID economy of government subsidies.”
Luetkemeyer also chastised Democrats for offering to foot the House bill by recovering funds from people who had fraudulently acquired them through past aid programs.
“I agree that we need to hunt down and hold fraudsters accountable, and I applaud this process,” Luetkemeyer said. “But that process takes time, and it won’t get all those dollars back.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, said the legislation was about “economic resilience.”
“You can’t be self-employed if you go bankrupt,” Hoyer said. “You can’t be self-employed if you can’t run your business.”