U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s Federal Relief Bill for Independent Restaurants Inches Closer to a Vote

The bill could receive a vote as early as this week.

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (center) pictured with chef and restaurateur Naomi Pomeroy, Han Oak owner and executive chef Peter Cho, and Erika Polmar, chief operating officer of the Independent Restaurant Coalition.

Much-needed aid could be on the way to restaurants, bars and breweries walloped by the pandemic now that negotiations for a second round of stimulus payments look ready to resume.

Today, Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer announced that his federal relief bill, which would provide tens of billions of dollars to independent food and drink establishments, could be voted on as early as this week by the U.S. House of Representatives as part of a broader COVID-19 relief package.

Blumenauer, a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, was joined at a news conference by two of the city's most well-known chefs, Naomi Pomeroy of Beast and Han Oak owner Peter Cho, as well as Erika Polmar, chief operating officer of the Independent Restaurant Coalition.

"Portland wouldn't be Portland without our independent restaurants, which is why I worked with local chefs and restaurateurs to craft legislation that meets the direct needs of this important industry. Now, what started as a local effort to save our beloved food establishments has turned into a national movement," Blumenauer said. "With winter coming, independent restaurants that are holding on by a thread will face even greater challenges to survive. Congress must seize this opportunity to provide restaurants the relief they need."

The Restaurants Act, originally introduced by Blumenauer, is an effort to help those small businesses in ways the Paycheck Protection Program fell short, since it was often too restrictive for restaurant owners and did not address that industry's specific challenges.

If approved, the legislation would create a $120 billion grant program to provide structured relief to restaurants through 2020, covering the difference between revenues from 2019 and projected revenues until the end of the year.

Those grants would not need to be paid back and could go toward payroll, mortgage, rent, utilities and other operating costs. Participants cannot be publicly traded or part of a chain with 20 or more locations, and if a restaurant ends up closing during 2020, those unspent funds must be returned.

During the first 14 days that the program is rolled out, the act prioritizes minority-, women- and veteran-owned establishments with annual revenues of less than $1.5 million.

While the pandemic has dealt a blow to small businesses across the country, independent restaurants—which account for around 76% of the restaurants and bars in the U.S.—and their workers have been uniquely devastated. A recent National Bureau of Economic Research report found that only 15% of independent restaurants may survive if the pandemic continues.

Related: A New Report Shows the State's Hospitality Industry Has Been Hit the Hardest by COVID-19.

Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have highlighted the legislation as a critical component of any COVID relief package. In the Senate, the legislation is supported by 40 bipartisan members, including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

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