Congress Considering $55 Billion Relief Package for Restaurants, Other Industries That Struggled During Pandemic

by TK Sanders

Congress will likely vote on a small-business relief package soon that would include $42 billion for restaurants and $13 billion for other industries especially affected by COVID-19. The Congressional Rules Committee will meet Tuesday to discuss finer points, which indicates a vote is likely shortly thereafter.

At a glance

  • The U.S. House of Representatives is considering billions in new relief funds for small businesses
  • The new funding will supposedly come from old allocations that never reached applicants during COVID-19
  • Democrats hope that Republican lawmakers welcome the bill with bipartisan support, given its funding source

According to political news organization Roll Call, Democratic leaders will whip the bill in order to gauge the likelihood of its passing. Lawmakers say that the bill’s funding would derive from “all funds rescinded, seized, reclaimed, or otherwise returned” in prior relief laws during the pandemic. Whether the entirety of the $55 billion relief package from Congress would be funded via prior allocations (or just partial funding) is not known, yet.

“This is a retrospective make-good”

Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., said in an interview that he has been working with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for months to construct this bill. He wants to provide additional aid to restaurants and other small businesses that did not access previous pandemic relief programs. Speaking a few hours before Congress announced the bill, Phillips said he was hopeful for a vote. He also said he hopes for bipartisan support given the measure is offset with recaptured fraudulent funds.

“We under-appropriated to begin with,” Phillips said. “So this is about a make-good and not picking winners and losers. And that notion is picking up some steam, recognizing this is not a prospective COVID relief bill. This is a retrospective make-good.”

Phillips said in a letter to Pelosi and House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., that many fellow Democrats would only support a bill if it included aid for the “hardest-hit small businesses.”

Other contributors to the letter wrote that deserving industries include live events venues and planners, hotels, and fitness centers. Phillips also mentioned the motorcoach industry and minor league baseball teams, as possible beneficiaries.

Congress’ restaurant relief package would update a previous program from 2021

The new $42 billion earmarks for restaurants will essentially backfill the Restaurant Relief Fund. The original $28.6 billion Democrats provided in their 2021 pandemic relief law famously ran out of money; with just one-third of businesses that applied for grants receiving any compensation. The extra money will supposedly cover the remaining applicants’ needs from the same program.

The new bill does include language, however, stating that if there are more qualified applicants than money, each applicant could receive a smaller share than originally promised, based on a sliding percentage. To qualify, restaurants and bars must certify that they are still operating or plan to reopen within 6 months to receive any grant funding.

The bill would then require the Small Business Administration to conduct audits of all grant recipients. Businesses that received awards under the initial $28.6 billion investment would face audits as well. The SBA would then report back to Congress with the findings.