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Wicker’s $120 billion ‘RESTAURANTS Act’ aims to support industry amid pandemic

Image courtesy of Robert St. John

Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker is leading an effort to assist independent restaurants struggling as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to negatively affect the industry. With bipartisan support, the bicameral ‘Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed to Survive (RESTAURANTS) Act of 2021’ has been introduced by Senator Wicker and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz), and Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore), and Brian Fitzpatrick R-PA). 

With 1 in 6 restaurants having closed and the industry currently 2.5 million jobs below its pre-pandemic level, the ‘RESTAURANTS Act’ would establish a $120 billion revitalization fund to support independent restaurants and small franchisees across the country. 

“The coronavirus pandemic continues to threaten the existence of many of America’s restaurants and the suppliers that support them,” Wicker said. “Without additional targeted relief, many restaurants, especially small and independent establishments, may not survive the year because of state indoor dining restrictions. The RESTAURANTS Act would provide support to help these small businesses adapt their operations and keep their employees on the payroll as our nation works to finish the fight against COVID-19.”

The RESTAURANTS Act of 2021 is modeled after legislation the authors introduced last Congress. The new proposal would create a $120 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund to provide relief to food service or drinking establishments that are part of a group of up to 20 facilities. Owners could apply for grants of up to $10 million to cover eligible expenses retroactively to February 15, 2020, and ending eight months after the legislation is signed into law.

According to Wicker, grants could be used to support payroll, benefits, mortgage, rent, utilities, building maintenance and construction of outdoor facilities, supplies (including protective equipment and cleaning materials), food, operational expenses, paid sick leave, debt obligations to suppliers, and any other essential expenses.

The legislation also includes several new provisions to help restaurants and their employees and ensure the integrity of the program. These provisions would:

  • Update the award calculation based on annual loss from calendar year 2020 rather than quarterly.
  • Provide grant eligibility for new restaurants that opened after January 1, 2020.
  • Provide paid sick leave as an eligible expense for employees and provides a bonus amount to cover the cost of voluntarily providing 10 days of sick leave to employees.
  • Provide Treasury the discretion to help reduce waste, fraud, and abuse.
  • Impose reporting obligations on the Department of the Treasury to share who gets loans and demographic information about the recipients.
  • Ensure that restaurants can use both the Employee Retention Tax Credit and the RESTAURANTS Act grant program, so long as they are not used for the same expenses.

For a full summary of the legislation, click here.

The legislation is supported by the Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC) and the National Restaurant Association (NRA).

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