The Senate passed President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill Saturday, which included a boost in funding for restaurants and key changes to unemployment insurance and stimulus checks.
The House is scheduled to vote on the amended bill on Tuesday. After that, the bill will be sent to Biden’s desk.
In the House of Representatives' version of the legislation, restaurants were set to receive $25 billion as part of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. In the Senate’s bill, that total was increased to $28.6 billion.
“Every vote brings us closer to the relief restaurants have needed for the last year,” Sean Kennedy, vice president of public affairs for the National Restaurant Association, said in a statement. “The Senate passage of the American Rescue Plan means we have turned the corner and can see the finish line. We appreciate leadership’s continued support of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and the other programs in this bill that will support restaurants across the industry to put us on the road to recovery. We also appreciate the Senate’s action in increasing the size of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund to $28.6 billion. We look forward to prompt consideration of the American Rescue Plan in the House.”
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 (excluding employee compensation exceeding $100,000 per year), employee benefits and paid sick leave; mortgage, rent, and utilities; outdoor seating construction; supplies, PPE, and cleaning materials; food; operational expenses; and debt obligation to suppliers.
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. Grants that are unused or spent on ineligible expenses must be returned to the government.
“This is a decisive moment for the independent restaurant and bar community,” said Erika Polmar, executive director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, in a statement. “Independent restaurants and bars came together at the beginning of the pandemic with the hope that by working together for the first time, our industry could make a big impact—and that’s what we did. We proposed a grant program for restaurants, educated our elected officials about the industry, built a movement, and today we are proudly watching Congress send our plan to President Biden’s desk.”
The bill was passed after debates that extended past 24 hours. The largest change between the House and Senate bill is that the $15 minimum wage hike was removed. This is because the Senate parliamentarian ruled earlier that the provision wasn’t allowed under budget reconciliation since it has no direct affect on the budget.
Sen. Bernie Sanders attempted to add a $15 minimum wage amendment to the bill late Friday, but the measure failed 58-42, with eight Democrats voting against it. The amendment, doomed from the start, was mostly to get lawmakers on the record in regard to the minimum wage hike.
Additionally, under the Senate bill, the $1,400 checks phase out for those with annual incomes between $75,000 and $80,000. Under the House legislation, the phase out was between $75,000 and $100,000.
As for unemployment, the Senate bill would extend the $300 weekly unemployment boost through early September, and make the first $10,200 non-taxable. The House’s version would’ve increased it to $400 per week through the end of August.
The legislation also includes $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 $678.7 billion, with about $128 billion left in the latest round of funding. The program is set to expire at the end of March.