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Congressmen: Unused relief money should go to RI restaurants

PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) — With about four months left in the year, millions of dollars remain unspent in the nation’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF).

The RRF is providing emergency relief to eligible restaurants, bars and other businesses impacted by the pandemic. As of June 2022, $180 million in RRF funding remains uncommitted, according to
at USAspending.gov.

In an August 11 letter, members of the Rhode Island congressional delegation wrote to U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Isabella Guzman, asking that the SBA prioritize the award of unrequired RRF funds to applicants from states like Rhode Island “who received disproportionately low levels of awards relative to the number of applications in the state.

“Even if some are set aside for litigation or have to be sent to the Treasury Department, awards of this magnitude could make a transformative difference for the many restaurants still grappling with the aftershocks of the pandemic’s economic crash,” wrote the delegates.

Only 30% of restaurants in Rhode Island that applied for the RRF received relief, the lowest rate in the country and more than 10 percentage points lower than any other New England state, according to an analysis by the Government Accountability Office. (GAO) SBA data.

“We are asking the SBA to correct this discrepancy using uncommitted RRF dollars.
prioritize awarding restaurants to states with the lowest percentage of eligible applicants funded,” the letter reads.

“Such an action would ensure that program funds are distributed geographically equitably,
help more restaurants in more states,” the letter continues.

12 News has contacted the SBA for comment.

Harrison Elkhay, president of Chow Fun Food Group, told 12 News that he requested money for his restaurants more than a year ago, and there is no indication whether the requests will be approved. The fund was created in March 2021.

“We applied within five minutes of it being posted,” Elkhay said, noting the wait was frustrating.

Elkhay told 12 News that his group’s restaurants have still not returned to pre-pandemic levels of activity.

“If those funds aren’t released, there’s a good chance there will be cuts in other places, which would really hurt the economy and really hurt Rhode Islanders,” he added.

The story continues below.

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) created the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) to provide funds to help restaurants and other eligible businesses stay afloat. Grant money can be used for a variety of expenses, including salary costs, utility payments, outdoor seating construction, and some vendor costs.

The SBA notes that the program provides restaurants with “funding equal to their pandemic-related revenue loss up to $10 million per business and no more than $5 million per physical location.”

FRR recipients are not required to repay the funding, as long as the funds are used for eligible purposes by March 11, 2023, according to the SBA.

A total of 446 Rhode Island restaurateurs have received more than $106 million in assistance from the program, the delegation said.

In May, Senate Republicans blocked bipartisan legislation that would have earmarked an additional $40 billion for the fund, which the delegation said would have been “enough to provide all RRF candidates who had received no assistance from the full grants”.

The bill failed to receive the necessary 60 votes after all but five Republicans voted against considering the measure.

Richard Dement

The author Richard Dement