The Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a $28.6 billion support program for bars, restaurants and food trucks whose sales were devastated by the shutdowns that states imposed in response to the pandemic, closed on July 1 after running out of money, despite only fulfilling less than one-third of the grant requests it received.

The Small Business Administration, which ran the fund, told unsuccessful applicants in an email that it was unable to fund all qualified applications because of overwhelming demand. The fund was created as part of the $1.9 trillion economic support package passed earlier this year.

The program was expected to run out of money quickly. Lawmakers projected at least $120 billion in demand for the restaurant fund but provided money for less than a quarter of that amount. More than 370,000 business owners applied for more than $75 billion in funding, nearly three times what the program had available. Around 105,000 businesses were approved for grants, which averaged just over $272,000.

“For 100,000 restaurants, the R.R.F. has made their future clear and stable, but for the more than 200,000 operators shut out of funding, receiving this letter only heightens their fear and anger,” said Sean Kennedy, a spokesman for the National Restaurant Association. “We need Congress to act.”

Despite the massive gap between the number of applications filed and those fulfilled, much of the media coverage since the fund closed has centered around the windfall for some businesses, with 177 Marin restaurants landing nearly 90 million total, the Marin Economic Forum’s analysis of the SBA’s data showed. Sausalito garnered the most relief at $32 million, with San Rafael just behind at $29.1 million.

Mill Valley was in the middle of the pack at $3.9 million total. Marin Economic Forum CEO Mike Blakeley told the North Bay Business Journal that the restaurant/bar sector remains a major employer in Marin at about 10 percent.

He noted the number of people employed by restaurants and bars dropped from 11,604 in 2019 to 7,920 the following year. However, in the same year over year comparison, the number of establishments declined by only 27.

“The level of funding received shows how deep the pain was for that sector, considering they were allowed to partially operate through takeout, outdoor dining, until just one month ago (June 15). That being said, we did not see as many closures of businesses we might have expected given the minimal operating conditions. We did expect to see the reduction in employees-despite PPP and other efforts employers had to shed jobs in that sector.”

As is often the case with these types of “relief roundup” stories during the COVID-19 crisis, fuller context is elusive. Many restaurants took on massive debt during the pandemic, and the funds garnered via the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, the PPP aid and other sources simply provide a starting point to repaying some of that debt. There’s also the costs associated with the massive labor shortage during the pandemic. The number of people employed by restaurants and bars dropped from 11,604 in 2019 to 7,920 in 2020, according to Blakeley. 

Given the huge gap between the number of restaurants that applied via the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and those that actually received grants, the Independent Restaurant Coalition is urging members of Congress to replenish the fund with an additional $60 billion to support independent restaurants and bars, many of which are still struggling and urgently need help.

Want to help? Call your member of Congress at (202) 224-3121. Here’s a suggested script below on your call: “Hello, my name is [NAME] from [CITY, STATE]. As your constituent, I urge you to pass the bipartisan Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act, which would add $60B to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. Refilling the RRF would protect millions of jobs across the country. Please take swift action to refill this program.”

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