Now that Democrats’ $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill was signed into law this month, the wait is on for the launch of its new aid program for restaurants.
The American Rescue Plan Act provides $28.6 billion for the hard-hit industry through a Restaurant Revitalization Fund.
“We will be one of the first ones in line, because this, in my opinion, will relieve the anxiety that has been built up over the last year,” said Matt Corvi, owner of Mayes Oyster House in San Francisco, referring to his establishment’s efforts to prepare for the revitalization fund’s launch.
Corvi told MarketWatch that he experienced panic attacks last spring after his restaurant and bar had been shut down for six to eight weeks as part of the U.S. effort to limit COVID’s spread, and he has been losing money as he works on “keeping the place alive.”
Restaurants ought to be able to start applying for the aid next month, according to Patrick Kelley, associate administrator of the Small Business Administration’s office of capital access.
“Right now we’re targeting beginning of phased launch in April,” Kelley said on Wednesday at a Senate Small Business Committee hearing.
“The idea would be in the next seven to 10 days to start posting information relevant to the applicants and to give guidance on application and supporting documentation,” he added. “Then we would move to the prioritization pilot phase, and then to a broader open following that phase, and so that would typically unfurl over 30 to 45 days.”
Information on how eateries can work toward tapping into Washington’s new aid program is available online from trade groups such as the Independent Restaurant Coalition and the National Restaurant Association. Both groups say they’re working with the Small Business Administration as the agency takes steps to set up the program.
“Our expectation is that funding is available this spring,” said Erika Polmar, the Independent Restaurant Coalition’s executive director, in a statement to MarketWatch.
“The Small Business Administration has to interpret the legislation into rules and policies for grant applications, as well as implement their learnings from the Shuttered Venue Program. This all takes time. I know it’s tough and very frustrating to wait for help,” she added.
The SBA has said the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, which aims to assist those who run live-performance venues, will start accepting applications on April 8. It was authorized back in December by an earlier COVID aid package.
The Independent Restaurant Coalition’s Polmar also said her group is advocating that the SBA remove a requirement that eateries obtain a government ID number that’s known as a “DUNS” (Data Universal Numbering System) as well as a “SAM registration” (System for Award Management), but meanwhile it’s urging the restaurant and bar community to get them just in case. She said operators should take advantage of all federal relief available while waiting for the new program’s start, such as a second-draw loan from the Paycheck Protection Program.
The National Restaurant Association “has started to educate restaurant operators about what they can be doing now to be prepared for the application process when it opens,” said Aaron Frazier, the group’s director of healthcare and tax policy, in a statement.
“We know time is of the essence for restaurants in every community,” Frazier also said.
On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen faced a call from one congressman to help the government move fast on the new aid program for restaurants as she appeared before a House committee.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t urge you to be particularly quick on the rollout of the rules for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. That, obviously, is a sector that has been brutally hit in the last year or so, so we’re hoping that those funds become available quickly,” Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat, told Yellen.
Hayes Oyster House’s Corvi said he feels fortunate that his restaurant’s location is relatively “COVID-friendly,” with space that’s worked for outdoor dining and a useful front window. He also said PPP aid has been “tremendously” helpful for his business and praised the generosity of his patrons.
“There’s been a lot of really strong support from our customers. It shows through —like the tips that they give the bartenders,” he said.
But the damage is clear.
“The restaurant-bar business has been hit. It’s like a hurricane. We’ve been destroyed almost,” Corvi said.
This report was first published on March 24, 2020.