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Congressional stalling threatens restaurants’ future

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At restaurant tables across the country, conversations cover record inflation, high gas prices, supply chain challenges, and workforce shortages, issues restaurant owners and operators feel more keenly than any other industry.

In just the last year, wholesale food prices have increased more than 17 percent, the largest 12-month increase in nearly five decades. Coupling dire increases in commodity costs—67.2 percent for butter; 37 percent for flour; 20 percent for milk,16 percent for beef—with Congress’ failure to act quickly on several measures that could ease pressures on business owners, many restaurants are on their way to another forced shutdown.

Next week, the restaurant industry will be back in Washington, D.C., for its Public Affairs Conference. In what should have been a time to celebrate the critical role restaurants play in communities, restaurant owners and operators will be fervently asking members of Congress to take action on a number of bills, including replenishing the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), addressing tax credit delays, and making it easier to hire employees—all measures to help them stay in business.

A few weeks ago, the House voted to replenish the RRF with an additional $42 billion; now it’s up to the Senate to make it happen. The RRF has been an incredibly effective recovery tool for the restaurant industry, but its initial appropriation of $28.6 billion has left 177,000 eligible restaurants without funds. The Senate can make this right.

Another piece of legislation, the Essential Workers for Economic Advancement (EWEA) Act (H.R. 7239), would expand the country’s workforce through a 3-year, market-driven, non-immigrant visa program specific to occupations that provide growth opportunities and career paths without the need for a college degree. The EWEA program would connect prospective workers with employers, both of whom must meet participation requirements. It’s a commonsense solution that works for both employees and employers.

While in D.C., restaurant operators will demand accountability for the thousands of restaurants still enduring painstaking and costly delays in refunding the Employee Retention Tax Credit. They’ll ask Congress to urge the IRS to speed the process for credit payments on the first three quarters of 2021 and to reinstate this tax credit for the fourth quarter.

Since being introduced in the House and Senate, the ERTC Reinstatement Act has gained broad bipartisan support in both chambers. It’s time for Congress to take action and pass this critical piece of legislation.

Throughout the pandemic, restaurants across the country continually found ways to pivot and innovate their businesses to serve their communities and guests, and keep their workers employed—even as their own families were struggling to make ends meet. Congress has several, ready-to-go opportunities to help restaurants get back on a path to recovery and revitalization. It’s time to take action.

Sean Kennedy is the executive vice president of public affairs for the National Restaurant Association.

Tags COVID-19 restrictions employee retention tax credit ERTC Reinstatement Act restaurant revitalization fund Restaurants

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