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Senate Dems Pass Restaurant Relief Bill As Part of COVID Package

The COVID19 pandemic has impacted everyone in ways we’ll be hearing about for years to come. Every kind of business has suffered greatly in the year since the lockdowns began, with smaller and independently owned companies downsizing or shuttering altogether. Small business owners are feeling the impact the hardest, and the service industry has been hit so hard by the stay home orders, experts estimate that 25 years of employment gains were obliterated in the last eleven and a half months.

But some relief is on the way for beleaguered restaurant owners who have tried to stay open and viable during the most unprecedented human health crisis in modern times.  When Senate Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion COVID19 relief package, it included a provision of $28.6 billion for the restaurant industry based on legislation introduced by Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer last June.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JULY 28: A sign is posted at a restaurant that reads, “closed till further notice” as the city continues Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on July 28, 2020 in New York City. The fourth phase allows outdoor arts and entertainment, sporting events without fans and media production. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)

Despite a complete lack of support from Republicans and eight moderate Democrats, the bill passed thanks to the vote of Senate President and VP Kamala Harris. The bill is expected to receive final approval by the House of Representatives on Sunday and be signed by President Joe Biden ahead of the March 14 deadline to renew unemployment aid programs.

Blumenauer drafted the original Restaurants Act in June, which would have created a $120 billion grant program to help struggling restaurants. Aspects of the bill were folded into the Restaurant Rescue Plan, a bipartisan budget amendment proposed by Senators Roger Wicker of Mississipi and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona (who ironically voted against raising the minimum wage, which is clearly a major issue for hourly workers), which lawmakers passed last month.

The grant money will help cover payroll, mortgages, rent, utilities, and other operating expenses for approved restaurants. Although the dollar amount is less than originally proposed, representatives from the restaurant industry welcomed the bill’s passage.

“This is a decisive moment for the independent restaurant and bar community,” said Erika Polmar, executive director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, in a statement. “Independent restaurants and bars came together at the beginning of the pandemic with the hope that by working together for the first time, our industry could make a big impact—and that’s what we did.”



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