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Restaurants hurt by COVID pandemic can now apply for new federal aid program

Karen Woolstrum

Federal help is on the way for restaurants, bars, food trucks, caterers and other food establishments across the country that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal is to help them keep their doors open.

The U.S. Small Business Administration opened up applications on Monday  for the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The RRF was established under the American Rescue Plan, signed into law by President Joe Biden in March.

The SBA will make grants to eligible businesses equal to their pandemic-related losses up to $10 million per business and up to $5 million per physical location. They can be used for payroll, rent, and other specified purposes. Businesses must use their grants by March 11, 2023.

The online application will stay open until all funds have been exhausted.

"Restaurants are the core of our neighborhoods and propel economic activity on main streets across the nation. They are among the businesses that have been hardest hit and need support to survive this pandemic," said SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman in a written statement. "And we are commited to equity to ensure our smaller and underserved businesses, which have suffered the most, can access this critical relief, recover and grow more resilient."

To further that goal, $9.5 billion has been set aside for smaller restaurants and bars.

While all qualified businesses are allowed to apply, the SBA will prioritize RRF applications from businesses owned by women, veterans, and socially and economically disadvantaged people for the first 21 days of the program. After that, all eligible applications will be funded on a first come, first served basis. 

Justin Winslow, President and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association, said the RRF is critical for helping the state's restaurant industry that he says has been badly hurt by COVID-19 restrictions. But he believes more money is needed.

"Over the pandemic year, Michigan restaurants lost 57% of their sales," Winslow said. "That's more than twice the national average."

"We saw over 3,000 restaurants permanently close," said Winslow. "And a lot remain imperiled 15 months into this pandemic."

Winslow said without a second round of funding for restaurants, he believes the vast majority of them won't get the help they need.

The SBA has received 186,000 RRF applications from across the country in the first two days following the May 3rd launch. More than half of them are from businesses being given priority. 

Information about how to apply for the RRF can be found on the SBA website.

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Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.
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