Restaurant Relief Fund Championed by Blumenauer Has Received Applications Requesting Double What’s Available

Restaurants have requested $65 billion so far. Only $28.6 billion is available.

The federal restaurant relief fund championed by U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) that opened up for applications not yet two weeks ago has already received $65 billion worth of requests for funding—and has only $28.6 billion available.

Blumenauer released a statement Wednesday alongside several U.S. senators and representatives who asked Congress to refill that fund swiftly.

“We knew this rescue program would see high demand given the intense need during the economic crisis,” they wrote. “While our work to prioritize those most in need—including the smallest businesses and priority groups identified in the legislation—appears to be successful in the first round, the extraordinary demand for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund shows that Congress must do more to help.”

The sheer number of requests and dollars requested shows just how much the industry is aching for cash right now.

The U.S. Small Business Association, tasked with rolling out the funds, released data showing that it had received 266,000 applications, requesting a total of $65 billion in funds. The report included that close to half of the applications were submitted by women- and veteran-owned businesses and economically disadvantaged business owners.

The restaurant industry—especially in Portland, a city known nationally for its food scene—has been incessantly jostled by changing state regulations due to fluctuating COVID-19 infection rates.

But in a departure from its normally irate tone over Gov. Kate Brown’s handling of restaurant restrictions, the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association expressed hope when Brown announced Tuesday that most restrictions would be lifted once 70% of Oregonians were vaccinated.

“Oregon’s hospitality industry has been repeatedly hammered by the openings, closings, and changes to how we can operate over the last 13 months,” Greg Astley, director of government affairs for ORLA, said in a statement. “Hearing the plan for Oregon’s restaurants to be able to fully reopen and welcome back guests gives hope to those who have remained closed since the beginning of this pandemic and those who have struggled to remain open and keep people employed.”

A cash crunch isn’t the only problem Oregon restaurants face. A somewhat novel problem has emerged: a lack of people applying for jobs.

A May 10 press release from the Oregon Hospitality Foundation expressed that concern.

“Workforce shortages continue to be cited by restaurant and lodging employers as the number one issue facing their business,” the statement read. “The industry’s positive impact on local and state economies, and its ability to provide a low barrier to entry for first-time and less-skilled job seekers who can gain experience and a high opportunity to advance, make the hospitality industry’s recovery critical as part of Oregon’s overall pandemic economic recovery plan.”