The U.S. Senate has overwhelmingly approved a budget amendment that would provide much-needed relief for the food and beverage industry.
In a 90-10 vote, lawmakers passed the Restaurant Rescue Plan, which is based on the original Restaurants Act introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) last June. The strong show of support for the amendment, proposed by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), is an important milestone since the vote gets senators on the record for the first time demonstrating strong support for a restaurant relief fund.
"This long-awaited action by the Senate is terrific news," Blumenauer said in a statement, "and a huge step toward protecting our cherished local restaurants and providing a desperately needed lifeline to keep them in business."
Today's vote is part of a larger effort to provide a massive pandemic relief package, as proposed by President Joe Biden. There is not yet a dollar amount connected to the amendment, but estimates put the allocation for bars and restaurants at approximately $25 billion.
Although that is not as much as what was proposed in the original Restaurants Act, Blumenauer sees it as a positive start. His goal is to continue to advocate for more financial assistance.
The timing of when lawmakers will reach a deal on a final budget isn't certain, but Democrats are closely watching the calendar and have singled out March 14 as a critical date. That's when the latest extension of unemployment benefits would expire.
Committees are currently considering financial distribution logistics and regulations surrounding how that money could be used. Details should be released to the public in coming weeks, but they should look similar to those outlined in the Restaurants Act.
That would mean bar and restaurant owners could use grants for expenses like payroll, mortgage, rent, utilities and other operating costs.
News of today's vote was welcomed by service industry trade organizations.
"The Senate made it clear today: It's time to save restaurants and bars," Erika Polmar, executive director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, said in a message on the group's website. "There is undeniable bipartisan support across the country for a dedicated restaurant relief fund. The Senate knows that the only way we can fully recover our economy is to ensure neighborhood restaurants and bars can survive and continue employing over 11 million people."