After four months, Congress has again decided to negotiate a new federal economic relief package. On September 28, House Democrats introduced their proposal, a new version of the HEROES Act. The $2.2 trillion proposal would provide another round of stimulus checks and increased unemployment benefits. In a new move, it would also incorporate $120 billion in grants for restaurants, bars, and food trucks.
The grant program was first proposed in June by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) as the — deep breath — Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed to Survive Act, aka the RESTAURANTS Act. The program would exclude chain restaurants (even if they are franchises), and would cover payroll, rent, supplies, and PPE costs. Restaurants can also request additional funds specifically to provide employees with 10 paid sick days. And unlike the Paycheck Protection Program loans, restaurants would not have to pay this money back.
“By including the RESTAURANTS Act, the revised version of the HEROES Act is the best plan Congress has put forward to protect the livelihoods of the 11 million people employed by independent restaurants across the country,” the Independent Restaurant Coalition said in a statement. “Independent restaurants are out of options, and by providing flexible grants based on revenue losses to independent restaurants who need them, Congress can ensure many businesses have a shot at surviving colder weather and getting through the pandemic.”
The bill would “prioritize awarding grants to marginalized and underrepresented communities, with a focus on women- and minority-owned, and women- and minority-operated eligible entities” for the first 14 days. Restaurants with an annual revenue of over $1.5 million would not be eligible for that time period, though after that it appears to be open to anyone. Grant amounts would be determined by the difference between a restaurant’s 2019 revenues and estimated 2020 revenues for each quarter. “With winter coming, independent restaurants that are holding on by a thread will face even greater challenges to survive. Congress must seize this opportunity to provide restaurants the relief they need,” said Rep. Blumenauer in a statement.
The HEROES Act would still include PPP loans, which many restaurant owners previously found difficult to apply for, confusing to use, and not suited to the realities of how the restaurant business works. Previously, chain restaurants like Ruth’s Chris Steak House were also criticized for receiving loans while independent restaurants didn’t, and Black-owned businesses were disproportionately denied funds.
Outside of restaurants, the HEROES Act would also increase the maximum SNAP benefit by 15 percent. “This $2.2 trillion Heroes Act provides the absolutely needed resources to protect lives, livelihoods and the life of our democracy over the coming months,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. Of course, now the legislation must be voted on by the Democratic-majority House, and the Republican-majority Senate, which previously has tried to slash relief plans. It’s unlikely the HEROES Act will get passed as is, but you know, a floundering industry can dream.
Correction: September 29, 2020, 3:45 p.m.: This article was corrected to specify the details of availability for the grants.