House passes bill to provide relief to restaurants impacted by pandemic
The House passed legislation on Thursday that would provide $42 billion to replenish a fund created during the COVID-19 pandemic to help restaurants recover from the hit to their businesses.
Lawmakers passed the bill mostly along party lines, 223-203. Four Democrats opposed the bill, while six Republicans voted for it.
The COVID-19 aid package signed into law by President Biden last year included $28.6 billion for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which provided funding for more than 100,000 restaurants.
But the program received more than 278,000 applications requesting a total of more than $72.2 billion.
Democrats said that the additional funding is necessary to ensure that the full demand can be met for eligible restaurant applicants that continue to struggle because of the way the pandemic upended their operations.
“While these companies are dispersed throughout the country, they are united by a common message: that small firms are still hurting and they are counting on Congress for more support,” said House Small Business Committee Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.).
Aside from the new $42 billion infusion for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, the legislation would also provide $13 billion for a new Hard Hit Industries Award Program for small businesses that weren’t eligible for other pandemic aid programs. In order to qualify, businesses with up to 200 employees would have to show that they’ve experienced at least a 40 percent loss in revenue in 2020 and 2021 compared to 2019.
The programs would be offset with any funds recovered by the federal government from entities that defrauded past pandemic relief programs, such as the Paycheck Protection Program.
Republicans argued that the additional pandemic aid to help restaurants and other small businesses is unnecessary at a time when Americans are resuming many of the activities that they put on hold at the start of the pandemic two years ago, when vaccines were unavailable. They also warned that more government spending could exacerbate inflation.
“At the time, aid was critical for businesses to survive the pandemic,” Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas), the vice ranking member on the House Small Business Committee, said of the emergency pandemic aid measures in 2020. “But we must now let the free market work and stop involving spending billions more in the name of COVID-19. This attempt by Democrats to spend billions of tax dollars is irresponsible and will only add to what we have today in the growing inflation crisis.”
It’s not clear the bill has a path forward in the Senate, given the widespread GOP opposition.
Lawmakers are also struggling with authorizing additional funding for COVID-19 vaccines, testing and treatments in preparation for any new surge in cases.
A bipartisan group of senators announced earlier this week that they had reached an agreement for a $10 billion coronavirus relief package.
That was lower than an original $15.6 billion bipartisan deal as part of a sprawling package to fund the government through September. But some House Democrats balked at a proposed offset that would have clawed back unused COVID-19 relief funding from certain states.
Yet the deal reached this week is now in limbo because of a standoff over a Trump-era immigration policy known as Title 42, which allows for the expulsion of migrants at the border and prevents them from seeking asylum due to the pandemic. Republicans are pushing for votes to reinstate the policy, which if adopted could jeopardize the bill’s passage in the House.
Both the House and Senate are scheduled to leave for a two-week recess later Thursday, meaning any further action is stalled in the near future despite the Biden administration’s warnings that funding is running low to fund COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.