The House of Representatives passed President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill early Saturday, meaning restaurants are one step closer toward $25 billion in relief.
As part of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, food and drink entities with 20 locations or fewer will qualify for grants equal to the difference between 2020 and 2019 revenue, up to $10 million per company and $5 million per physical location. The grants may cover such items as payroll, rent and utilities, operational expenses, paid sick leave, food and beverage expenses, maintenance expenses, and more.
Additionally, the fund earmarks $5 billion for applicants with revenue of $500,000 or less and $20 billion for “eligible entities of different sizes based on annual gross receipts.” During the first 21 days, the application process will prioritize restaurants owned by women, veterans, and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
“Congress is helping millions of people who rely on restaurants and bars for their livelihood feel a little more optimistic tonight," Erika Polmar, executive director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, said in a statement. “Every week, more restaurants close and record numbers of unemployment claims are filed. Our communities desperately need these grants to stop the bleeding, and our coalition will continue fighting to make it a reality.”
The bill also includes $1,400 checks for most Americans, $350 billion for state and local governments, $130 billion to help reopen K-12 schools, and more than $75 billion for COVID testing and vaccine rollout. The bill also adds $7.25 billion in funding for the Paycheck Protection Program. Since its rollout last year, the program has disbursed roughly $663 billion, with about $143 billion left in the latest round of funding.The program is set to expire at the end of March.
The House’s bill includes a minimum wage increase to $15, but that likely won’t survive the Senate. This is because Congress is pushing the COVID relief bill through a process known as budget reconciliation, which would allow Democrats to pass it with a simple majority, as opposed to needing Republican support. The reconciliation process comes with stricter rules, such as provisions needing to be directly tied to the budget. The parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, decided the minimum wage hike didn’t qualify.
“The inclusion of the Raise the Wage Act will needlessly harm tipped servers and restaurants when they are most at risk of closing their doors for good,” said Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs for the National Restaurant Association, in a statement. “We need an agreement that supports the return of the restaurant jobs needed for local economies to recover from the pandemic, but that doesn’t penalize our workers or slow our rebuilding. We will continue to work with Congress to find this solution.”
The bill will go to the Senate, where the minimum wage provision will be stripped. That means the legislation will have to return to the House for final approval.
A minimum wage increase could still be presented in a standalone bill or part of other legislation.
“With its historic vote for $15, the House has shown it knows workers cannot survive on $7.25,” said Fight for $15 Union Leader Ieshia Townsend in a statement. “House members stepped up for America’s cooks, cashiers, janitors and home care workers. Now it’s time for the Senate to finish the job, pass a $15 minimum wage bill and send it to the President. By any means necessary. We’ve come too far to let an archaic Senate process that has held back Black and brown workers stop us. We will not let the Senate Parliamentarian block 32 million workers from winning a desperately-needed raise.”