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Restaurants Still Waiting for Federal Aid as Congress Returns to the Capitol

The Restaurants Act, which would provide funds to struggling restaurants, has stalled in Congress along with COVID-19 relief. | Photo by Terry Miller / Beacon Media News

With all the attention focused on restaurants’ survival in the wake of new restrictions following a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the Restaurants Act, a bill that would provide assistance to the restaurant industry, is in the first stages of the legislative process and there is no guarantee that it, or any other pandemic relief bill, will be passed by Congress before the end of the year.

The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives as House Resolution 7197 on June 15, 2020. A companion bill, Senate resolution 4012, was introduced in the Senate on June 18, 2020.

On Oct. 1 the Democrat-controlled House approved a revised Heroes Act which provides targeted relief for the nation’s 500,000 independent restaurants — which account for three-quarters of the restaurants and bars in the United States — and their 11 million workers. The legislation was approved as part of the revised Heroes Act — a $2.2 trillion coronavirus response package to fund testing and contact tracing, targeted relief for the nation’s 500,000 independent restaurants — which account for three-quarters of the restaurants and bars in the United States — and their 11 million workers. The legislation was approved as part of the revised Heroes Act — a $2.2 trillion coronavirus response package to fund testing and contact tracing, aid for state and local governments, additional direct cash payments to American families, and critical support for small businesses.

The bill would provide $120 billion in urgently needed relief to independent restaurants devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. The legislation provides restaurants with grants to cover operating costs such as payroll and benefits, food, utilities, rent, and more. Unlike previous federal relief packages, this aid would only be available to food service or drinking establishments with fewer than 20 locations that are not publicly traded.

Those in the food industry and related supply chains are desperate for relief that this bill could provide.

According to a survey released in mid-September by the National Restaurant Association, nearly one in six restaurants (representing nearly 100,000 restaurants) is closed either permanently or long-term; nearly 3 million employees are still out of work; and the industry is on track to lose $240 billion in sales by the end of the year. The industry looked a little better in October as employment levels rose but  restaurant staffing levels still remained 2.1 million jobs below pre-coronavirus readings, according to the association.

Unfortunately, the Heroes Act has not moved forward in the Republican-controlled Senate, though the party agrees that COVID-19 relief is needed.

Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said the October jobs report, which showed dropping unemployment levels, “ought to affect what size of any rescue package we additionally do” and suggested a smaller relief package. Republicans are calling for a scaled-down $500 billion bill.

Lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill Monday for the final session of the Congressional term before they break again for the new year. As they embark on a series of talks and negotiations, “the chief obstacles now appear to be [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi’s demand for state and local government aid and McConnell’s demand for a liability shield for businesses reopening during the pandemic,” according to the Associated Press.

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