National Restaurant Association asks Congress for more grant money as omicron hits industry

People dine at an outdoor dining patio set up at a restaurant on March 18, 2021 in New York City.
Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images

The National Restaurant Association is asking Congress to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund as the omicron variant hits operators’ businesses.

Last year, lawmakers created the $28.6 billion fund to aid bars and restaurants struggling in the wake of the pandemic. The grants were designed to make up for a restaurant’s full pandemic losses of up to $5 million for a single location or $10 million for a business with fewer than 20 locations. Publicly traded companies were ineligible, but their franchisees could still apply.

Since the fund was depleted, restaurants have been pushing for Congress to replenish it. Several lawmakers have introduced legislation to do so, but the bills haven’t gained traction, and the Biden administration hasn’t appeared interested in supporting the measure.

But the latest surge in Covid-19 cases and its impact on restaurants could change minds.

The National Restaurant Association’s latest survey of operators found that 88% of restaurants saw indoor dining demand wane because of the omicron variant. More than three-quarters of respondents told the trade group that business conditions are worse now than three months ago. And the majority of operators said that their restaurant is less profitable now than it was before the pandemic.

“Alarmingly, the industry still hasn’t recreated the more than 650,000 jobs lost early in the pandemic, a loss 45% more than the next closest industry,” the trade group’s top lobbyist Sean Kennedy wrote in a letter to Congressional leadership for both parties.

Kennedy also touted the benefits of the first round of RRF grants. The trade group estimates that more than 900,000 restaurants jobs were saved by the initial round of funding, and 96% of recipients said the grant made it more likely they could stay in business. A full replenishment of the fund would save more than 1.6 million jobs, according to the trade group’s estimates.

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