Senate Fails to Pass Additional COVID Relief Funds for Restaurants

The Independent Restaurant Coalition estimates over 88,000 restaurants may permanently close without additional funding.

A restaurant server picks up an order
Photo: Carles Navarro Parcerisas / Getty Images

Additional pandemic relief for restaurants — at least in its current form — will not reach President Biden's desk. Despite optimism in April when the House passed a bill that would have earmarked an additional $42 billion for the depleted Restaurant Revitalization Fund, yesterday, a vote in the Senate fell significantly short of garnering the required three-fifths majority to keep the legislation alive.

Despite bipartisan sponsors — Senators Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, and Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi — the Small Business COVID Relief Act of 2022 failed by a mostly partisan vote of 52 to 43, with only five Republicans supporting the bill and three Democrats abstaining.

The National Restaurant Association called the vote "a devastating blow to the restaurant industry and small business operators around the country," while the Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC) predicts that the lack of fresh funding could result in the additional closure of over 88,000 restaurants which had applied to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, but weren't able to secure a spot before the money was depleted.

"Local restaurants across the country expected help but the Senate couldn't finish the job," Erika Polmar, the IRC's executive director, stated after the vote. "Neighborhood restaurants nationwide have held out hope for this program, selling their homes, cashing out retirement funds, or taking personal loans in an effort to keep their employees working and their doors open. We estimate more than half of the 177,300 restaurants waiting for an RRF grant will close in the next few months as a result of Congressional inaction."

The IRC says that at least 90,000 restaurants and bars have closed since the beginning of the pandemic, meaning they believe this failed bill could double the amount of COVID-related closures.

As National Restaurant Association president and CEO Michelle Korsmo pointed out, many restaurants had anticipated receiving funding from the initial Restaurant Revitalization Fund before high demand ran the program dry. "When Congress offered these restaurants the RFF lifeline, restaurant owners and operators made business decisions based on those commitments," she said. "[This vote will] result in more economic hardships for the families and communities across the country that rely on the restaurant and foodservice industry."

Meanwhile, Senator Cardin expressed his own disappointment on Twitter. "[The Small Business Association] is prepared to process RRF applications if they receive additional funding. The only roadblock is the Senate, so I am deeply disappointed that despite bipartisan support from a majority of Senators, we were unable to move forward on this bill," he wrote. "While we didn't get the 60 votes we needed today, I remain committed to being a voice for small businesses in the Senate and will continue pushing to provide them with the support they deserve from the federal government."

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