Stimulus to Target In-Person Service Businesses

January 12, 2022

Discussion began in mid-December among a group of Senate lawmakers on providing another round of COVID-19 stimulus spending focused primarily on businesses who rely on in-person services such as restaurants, performance venues, gyms, and other entertainment venues.

The early-stage talks led by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) outlines a roughly $68 billion proposal, yet no legislative language has been finalized. The funds may include a mix of new spending and a repurposing of some unused money authorized under previous packages. Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) have been engaged in the possibility of a business-focused measure, as the omicron variant continues to impact the nation.

The American Rescue Plan Act, which created the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), ended in July after awarding the program’s full $28.6 billion appropriation to more than 100,000 restaurants, bars, and other businesses that provide on-site food and drink. Congress created the RRF to provide relief to a sector of the economy especially hard-hit by government-imposed shutdowns and other restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Demand for the funds far outstripped the supply, with restaurants and other eligible businesses submitting more than 278,000 applications seeking more than $72.2 billion in funding, as of June 30, the SBA said in a news release issued July 2. Since the funds ended, and there are growing concerns about the immediate economic disruption the omicron wave may cause, lawmakers have discussed adding some additional targeted relief money to the government spending agreement Congress must adopt before the Feb. 18 deadline. Congress will have to finalize a package that will keep the government operational or risk a federal shutdown at that time.

In a letter last month, Reps. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) asked House and Senate leaders to consider a “targeted relief package,” citing the specific needs of small businesses including restaurants, gyms and live venues. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), meanwhile, has reiterated her requests for Congress to replenish money in a restaurant-specific fund that ran dry months earlier as the hospitality industry braces for another major disruption.

Those in favor of providing additional relief may face an uphill battle, especially in the narrowly divided Senate and where Republican lawmakers has expressed concerns about adding to the nation’s debt. Thus, their opposition could complicate any effort to advance even a smaller, targeted stimulus measure.  

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