WASHINGTON – A total of 186,200 restaurants, bars, and other eligible businesses requested help from a new $ 28.6 billion aid program in the first two days that applications were accepted, President Biden said a pot of aid funds on Wednesday .
The Restaurant Revitalization Fund was launched by Congress under the $ 1.9 trillion relief bill passed in March and began accepting online applications on Monday.
“That’s an amazing number,” Biden said of the first flood of applications from all 50 states. Entrepreneurs hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic can apply for grants of up to $ 10 million.
The return of the restaurant industry will be a major test of Mr Biden’s goal of getting the country back to normal by the summer for both 2.3 million people whose restaurant jobs disappeared during the pandemic and vaccinated Americans willing to take advantage of the newly discovered freedoms to go out again and socialize.
“Currently, only about a quarter of restaurant owners expect to return to normal in the next six months,” said Biden. “We can do a lot better.”
Few industries suffered as much from the financial blow of the coronavirus pandemic over the past year as the restaurant industry, which slumped business of closing indoor eateries in many states and closing higher-priced restaurants that couldn’t easily be switched to options take away. According to the National Restaurant Association, more than 110,000 restaurants and bars closed temporarily or permanently last year.
Mr Biden’s aid plan for restaurants, while limited, is more robust than what has been available to them in the past. Restaurants were not included in the coronavirus relief package that former President Donald J. Trump signed last December. Mr Trump had opposed the loss of jobs while also expressing optimism about the fate of the industry as a whole.
“It may not be the same restaurant, it might not be the same property, but they will all be back,” Trump told reporters at a news conference last year.
On Wednesday, Mr. Biden described restaurants as important foundations for their communities and as access to opportunities that were “more than a large part of our country”.
“They are woven into the fabric of our communities,” added the president.
He described the battered industry as one of the best ways for many people to make the American dream come true. “Every third American who works in a restaurant has done their first job,” said Biden. “More than half of all Americans have worked in a restaurant at some point in their life.”
May 5, 2021, 7:34 p.m. ET
However, the relief offered by the government falls far short of what is needed to stabilize the decimated industry.
A group of small food business owners who campaigned for the funds has claimed it will take $ 120 billion to stabilize independent restaurants. And Mr Biden said Wednesday he expects the current fund to help about 100,000 restaurants and other eligible businesses – fewer than those who applied in the first 48 hours of the website.
“We know that $ 28.6 billion is not enough to meet demand,” said Isabella Casillas Guzman, the small business administrator, last week. “However, we need to demonstrate that demand and encourage everyone to apply and access this fund as much as possible and show what remaining needs are out there.”
For the first 21 days, the Small Business Administration will only approve claims from companies that are majority owned by women, veterans, or those considered both socially and economically disadvantaged.
Mr Biden said 97,600 of the applications received in the first two days of the program were from companies belonging to people who fell into those categories. However, high demand for the funds was not necessarily a good thing for a program that has limited funds and has to turn away many businesses in need.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the government was open to receiving more funding from Congress, but she did not provide details. Mr Biden said the high demand should prove to skeptics that the program was a necessity.
“We have passed the American rescue plan,” he said. “Some people said it wasn’t necessary. This answer proves they are wrong. It is urgently needed. “
Before speaking at the White House, Mr. Biden bought tacos and enchiladas from Taqueria Las Gemelas, a Mexican restaurant in Washington that benefited from the Aid Fund’s pilot program. The restaurant increased from 55 employees before the pandemic to just seven, Mr Biden said.
The program has not yet given money to restaurants outside of the limited pilot, but officials said they were hoping to get cash out the door quickly.