Bipartisan legislation to assist independent restaurants with the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has gained critical traction on Capitol Hill in recent days.
The legislation, which would establish a $120 billion restaurant revitalization fund, did not initially generate the support necessary to move along in the legislative process when it was introduced earlier this summer by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. The announcement came at a time when lawmakers sparred over economic recovery plans, thus causing the measure to be largely overshadowed by nationwide calls for a comprehensive pandemic relief package.
However, just as negotiations between Democrats and Republicans over economic stimulus aid sputtered, with most lawmakers back at home for August recess, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) gave the legislation a much-needed kick start when he announced his support of the restaurant relief bill on Friday.
Restaurants that are not publicly traded and that normally generate $1.5 million or less in revenue would qualify for grants under the measure, known as The Restaurants Act. The grants, which would be funded through the Treasury Department, can be used to cover payroll, benefits, mortgage, rent, protective equipment, food, and other relevant costs. The funds would provide an addition or substitute to loans provided through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for restaurants to spend more on overhead costs and payroll.
The top Senate Democrat’s signature on the Senate version of The Restaurants Act (S. 4012) signals that the measure may be able to move forward in the legislative process. Schumer said in a statement on Friday that lawmakers should “act now to pass this important legislation and other critical assistance that struggling small businesses and workers are in desperate need of.”
Major companies, such as Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, have also expressed their support of the $120 billion revitalization fund by signing onto a July 8, 2020, letter from the Independent Restaurant Coalition. The companies, all of which have a stake in the survival of eating establishments, noted how their businesses would be impacted without restaurants.
Some GOP members have been hesitant to cosponsor The Restaurants Act, expressing broader concerns about the country taking on more debt. The Senate version of the measure, which was introduced by Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), currently has the support of 21 Democrats and seven Republicans. The House version (H.R. 7197), introduced by Representatives Earl Bluemenauer (D-OR-03) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), currently has 173 Democratic cosponsors and just three Republican cosponsors.