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Bipartisan bill to provide $120B in coronavirus relief for restaurants reintroduced

Bipartisan bill to provide $120B in coronavirus relief for restaurants reintroduced
© Bonnie Cash

Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerMcCarthy and Biden haven't spoken since election Instagram sparks new concerns over 'kidfluencer' culture Democrats battle over best path for Puerto Rico MORE (R-Miss.) reintroduced legislation on Friday to establish a $120 billion revitalization fund to support independent restaurants and small franchisees devastated from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed to Survive (Restaurants) Act, was introduced by Wicker along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Reps. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerDemocrats offer competing tax ideas on Biden infrastructure Democrats have a growing tax problem with SALT Progressives up pressure on Biden to back COVID vaccine patent waiver MORE (D-Ore.), and Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickHouse passes bill to prevent violence in health care workplaces House panel opens probe into Tom Reed over sexual misconduct allegations Fitzpatrick replaces Tom Reed as House Problem Solvers co-chair MORE (R-Pa.).

The bill is built off of legislation Wicker and Blumenauer introduced last Congress. 

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The new legislation differs from the 2020 legislation because it updates the award calculation based on annual loss, rather than quarterly, provides grant eligibility for restaurants that opened in 2020 and allows paid sick leave to be an eligible expense, among other provisions. 

A Wicker amendment to direct Congress to dedicate support for restaurants passed the Senate, 90-10, on Thursday during the marathon voting session on a Democratic budget resolution, indicating strong bipartisan support for aid to the industry.

The so-called vote-a-rama on the budget lays the groundwork for passing a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package with a simple majority vote, avoiding a filibuster later this year.

The $120 billion revitalization fund would allow owners to apply for grants of up to $10 million to cover eligible expenses retroactively as far back as Feb. 15, 2020, and up to eight months after the legislation is signed into law.

Grants could be used for payroll, benefits, mortgage, rent, utilities, maintenance and construction of outdoor facilities, and supplies like personal protective equipment and paid sick leave, among other essential expenses.

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“Without additional targeted relief, many restaurants, especially small and independent establishments, may not survive the year because of state indoor dining restrictions. The RESTAURANTS Act would provide support to help these small businesses adapt their operations and keep their employees on the payroll as our nation works to finish the fight against COVID-19,” Wicker said in a statement.

The coronavirus relief package Congress passed in December did not include direct funds to restaurants and bars. The Independent Restaurant Coalition, which was formed in March, has pushed for this kind of aid.

The National Restaurant Association, however, was pleased with the December package because it included a second round of funding for the Paycheck Protection Program with some provisions aimed to assist the restaurant industry.

Support for a fund to support restaurants comes as senators are debating raising the federal minimum wage to $15. The restaurant industry is pushing back on the Raise the Wage Act, spearheaded by Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSirota: Biden has not fulfilled campaign promise of combating union-busting tactics Democratic senators call on Biden to support waiving vaccine patents Progressives put Democrats on defense MORE (I-Vt.), which they say would create a financial challenge for restaurants.