Welp, it’s (almost) official: when Congress takes up the 2022 omnibus spending bill, there won’t be any new money for restaurants that are still struggling after years of pandemic-related losses. According to reporting from CNN’s Manu Raju, Senate small business and entrepreneurship committee chairman Ben Cardin said on Tuesday, March 8 that Republican opposition means that the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) will not be replenished.
This news doesn’t exactly come as a surprise, but earlier this year, there was some hope that more money was coming. Back in January, a Biden administration official said pretty plainly that the president had no plans to support a new comprehensive stimulus for all Americans, but did hint that there might be “something small for restaurants” on the way. Many hoped that would mean more money into the RRF, which wasn’t able to distribute the vast majority of monies requested by restaurants due to lawsuits over a rule intended to help that aid reach minority-owned businesses first.
It’s abundantly clear that the Biden administration considers the pandemic to be basically over. The President has encouraged most people to stop wearing masks in indoor spaces, something that was unthinkable a year ago. He’s also encouraged people to stop working from home and head back into their offices in an effort to “move forward” after two years of absolute chaos and devastation. For restaurants, it’s all but certain that the devastation will continue.
The Independent Restaurant Coalition, which has spent the last two years lobbying for small restaurants in the face of extreme economic uncertainty, issued a statement on Wednesday condemning the decision to abandon restaurants, calling it “catastrophic” for these establishments. “We are beyond disappointed that this massive government funding proposal ignores the needs of 177,300 neighborhood restaurants and bars impacted by the pandemic,” IRC executive director Erika Polmar said. “I hear from business owners every day who are having to close their doors and since Congress and the White House couldn’t see their way to refill the RRF, hundreds more will face the same fate in the coming weeks.”
Even the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, with its paltry $28.6 billion in initial funding, wasn’t enough to meaningfully help most establishments. By the time it closed in July 2021, the RRF gave out just about a third of the grant requests that it received because the demand was so great. Despite literal years of exhortations from everyone from Tom Colicchio to Elizabeth Warren for Congress to provide aid to restaurants, neither the Biden administration nor Congress has acted in a way to provide meaningful, comprehensive assistance.
As such, we’ll continue to see the consequences of that failure in the coming months. An estimated 90,000 restaurants have already closed their doors during the pandemic, and that number will likely continue to grow. Supply chain shortages are still a massive problem for restaurants, and the cost of doing business grows by the day. Everything from labor to packaging to utilities have gotten more expensive, and that ongoing rise in the cost of doing business continues to have a disproportionate impact on small businesses like restaurants.
Even now that the Omicron wave is receding, and more people are going back to restaurants and living their lives “normally” again, there’s no way for these establishments to get back what they’ve lost since the shutdowns began in March 2020. Restaurant owners have taken on substantial debt and tapped into their own savings accounts, just in an effort to keep the doors open. Many independently owned restaurants haven’t been anywhere near profitable since the pandemic began, and it’s clear that many of them are in a hole that they’ll never be able to dig themselves out of.