President Joe Biden had a lot to cover at his first-ever State of the Union address on Tuesday. Our country’s still in the middle of a pandemic, there’s a war overseas, and the world at large seems like it will never be the same. In the days after his speech, as memes of Nancy Pelosi dominate the internet, one group is rallying together to ask for more.
While Biden touched many times on the importance of revitalizing businesses as a whole, restaurant owners—and more specifically, members of the Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC)—noticed that any talk of reviving the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) or specific mentions of the food and drink industry were absent from Biden’s speech. Now more than 100,000 restaurant workers have signed a letter to the president emphasizing the importance of the fund.
The Restaurant Revitalization Fund is a program that was established in spring 2021 as part of the pandemic-induced American Rescue Plan Act. Approved restaurants were funded up to $10 million per business ($5 million per physical location) and they have until March 2023 to use those funds. The money could be used for everything from paying rent and building outdoor dining spaces to covering worker salaries and paying off past debts.
But that initial round of funding ran out in a matter of weeks. ABC News reports that nearly 200,000 eligible restaurants did not receive any money because of how quickly the allotted amount was depleted, endangering the livelihood of up to 11 million workers. And the window to add more funding is quickly closing: March 11 is the expiration date for the Continuing Resolution, the spending bill that would allow more money to be added to the RRF.
Back in January, when asked about more relief for restaurants a senior Biden administration official told CNN that, because the “economy is booming” (uh, which economy are you talking about, sir?), “we are not going to write checks to incentivize people to sit at home, and we are not going to bail out businesses.”
So in short, it sounds like Biden’s current plan is to… do nothing. What he and others in his administration might not realize is that these funds are not just for a current boost to bars’ and restaurants’ checkbooks; this money is necessary to pay off back loans and cover other debts that built up over the last two years of the pandemic. Just because people are once again dining out doesn’t mean a food joint can suddenly cover millions of dollars in costs just to catch up.
According to the IRC, at least 90,000 restaurants and bars have closed since the beginning of the pandemic, a pandemic that many forget we are very much in. Without federal support, we’ll be saying goodbye to even more independently owned spots by the year’s end.
Erika Polmar, the IRC’s executive director, said it best: “The state of the union is not strong when neighborhood restaurants and bars are ready to close permanently.”