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October 21 — North Carolina Restaurants Urge Congress and Biden Administration to Refill Critical Grant Program


October 21, 2021


Jeff Solnet

North Carolina Restaurants Urge Congress and Biden Administration to Refill Critical Grant Program

Congressional Negotiations on Government Spending Exclude Funding for Restaurant Relief Program, Leaving Behind At Least 4,049 North Carolina Restaurants

Over 82% of independent restaurant and bar owners concerned they will close without a Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant

***Click Here to Watch***

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA – Today, North Carolina restaurant owners struggling to keep their doors open joined Rep. Deborah Ross (D-NC), the Independent Restaurant Coalition, and the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association to call on Congress and the Biden administration to refill a federal relief program for neighborhood restaurants, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF). The Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act would allow the Small Business Administration to finish processing applications from nearly 200,000 eligible businesses that applied for relief, including over 4,049 in North Carolina. There have been no indications from Congress or the Biden Administration that this legislation will see additional funding as part of the ongoing negotiations on government spending. 

“The Restaurant Revitalization Fund is the only reason my businesses are open today,” said Katie Button, Chef of Katie Button Restaurants in Asheville, IRC Co-Founder. “We are still losing money. Our businesses will not become profitable overnight. That will take some time and we need a buffer so our industry can recover. Failing to refill the RRF will decimate the businesses that provide America’s favorite first job. There are hundreds of thousands of restaurants that will not survive without the RRF. We need our members of Congress to step up and make this happen now.”

“Restaurants are central to our economy and central to our culture in North Carolina. They have been disproportionately burdened with immense challenges from the pandemic,” said Congresswoman Deborah Ross (D-NC), Co-sponsor of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act. “Under President Biden’s leadership, Congress acted swiftly to pass the American Rescue Plan and delivered historic funding and relief to restaurants hit hard by the pandemic, but we know it was not enough and we were not prepared for the Delta Variant. Funding for this vital lifeline meant that many restaurants were able to continue operations and even saw sales grow from May to June. However, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund only provided a drop in the bucket compared to what restaurants need.  We must continue this momentum because we cannot leave these independent restaurants behind. I am urging congressional leadership to include additional COVID-19 relief funding for small independently owned restaurants in the budget reconciliation package.”

The difficulty facing restaurants nationwide is being acutely felt in North Carolina. The state is home to 19,504 restaurants, which employ nearly 522,500 leisure and hospitality workers. While 2,579 received an RRF grant and now have the financial flexibility to survive the pandemic, 4,049 restaurants were left behind in the first round of funding and are in danger of permanent closure unless Congress refills the RRF.

“The Restaurant Revitalization Fund gave my restaurant a future,” said Cheetie Kumar, Co-owner of Garland in Raleigh, IRC board member. “The grant allowed me to pay my landlords for thousands and thousands of dollars in backrent and continue to pay my staff living wages. Restaurants need help. None of us have time to advocate — we are staying loud because we are desperate.” 

“Restaurants are still not out of the woods,” said Lynn Minges, President & CEO for the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association. “No sector of the business community has suffered the way that we have. The RRF was a gamechanger for restaurants that received funding, but the plurality of restaurants left behind are on the brink of permanent closure. This grant was the silver bullet for many restaurateurs in our state but there are still about 4,500 that are waiting for relief. Congress needs to refill the RRF so every business that needs relief receives it.”

“I did not receive the Restaurant Relief fund and it has been quite a challenge,” said Matt Kelly, Chef/Owner of Mateo Tapas and Vin Rouge Durham. “Time is of the essence. People are closing their businesses every day. Livelihoods are at stake. Replenishing the RRF will allow me to reopen one restaurant that is temporarily closed and pay down the money I owe to my landlords. Two thirds of the people who applied for the RRF did not receive it. That’s not right. We need Senators Tillis and Burr to support our industry in our time of need now.”

“When I learned I was not going to receive RRF, I felt like I got squashed under a giant thumb,” said Kim Hammer, Owner of Bittersweet in Raleigh. “My son’s college fund is gone, my retirement fund is gone. We're operating like it’s year one and we’re just trying to hang on, make smart decisions, and survive by the skin of our teeth. It feels like we're just one variant or one cold spell away from not surviving. One good Saturday night and one good weekend does not make up for 18 months lost. Senators Tillis and Burr need to remember that restaurants and bars are community centers. They are places that people need to gather during these times.”

Restaurants and bars are struggling to survive. The September Jobs report indicated that restaurant and bar employment is still down 930,500 jobs since the start of the pandemic. The Delta variant threatens to push more restaurants and bars into permanent closure. Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 90,000 restaurants and bars have closed. There are now dining restrictions in more than a third of the states in the country. Restaurant reservations have plummeted in states across the nation; for instance in Brooklyn (57%), Minneapolis (58%), and Raleigh (36%), bookings are far below their 2019 levels. According to a recent survey, 60% of adults changed their dining habits due to the Delta variant. These businesses have a pile of debt that is continuing to build — 51% of restaurants could not pay their September rent.

The IRC conducted an email survey indicating that the situation facing restaurants is more dire than ever:

  • 85% of restaurant and bar owners reported not receiving an RRF grant. 

  • Over 82% of restaurant and bar owners reported concern they will close without an RRF grant. 

  • Nearly 1 in 5 (18.3%) of restaurant owners reported having their credit scores reduced below 570 during the pandemic — many of these operators cannot take on any more loans.

The Small Business Administration closed the RRF application portal, leaving over 177,000 restaurants and bars that applied for relief out in the cold. Restaurants and bars lost over $280 billion during the pandemic yet only received $28.6 billion in targeted relief. These businesses continue to deal with pandemic-induced headwinds — over the past year, the prices of beef and veal (57%), grains (55%), eggs (36.7%) and shortening and cooking oil (41.5%) have surged. This relief will give many of the nation’s 500,000 independent restaurants and bars the support they need to survive the pandemic as well as the 16 million people they support to survive the pandemic.

Support for providing restaurants and bars the relief they need is continuing to grow. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) recently tried to add $48 billion by unanimous consent to add $48 billion to the RRF, invoking fierce speeches on the Senate floor from Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). The Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act is gaining rapid bipartisan support as 223 members of the House of Representatives and 43 members of the Senate have come out in support of the bill, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY-14) and Sen Susan Collins (R-ME). Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-1) and Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) introduced the legislation in both chambers of Congress, which provides $60 billion in additional funding for the RRF.