U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) did it.
On Saturday, the U.S. Senate passed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, $28.6 billion of which is earmarked specifically for the beleaguered restaurant industry—a provision based on legislation introduced by Blumenauer last year.
The bill is expected to receive final approval by the House of Representatives on Sunday and be signed by President Joe Biden ahead of the March 14 deadline to renew unemployment aid programs.
Blumenauer drafted the original Restaurants Act in June, which would have created a $120 billion grant program to help struggling restaurants. Aspects of the bill were folded into the Restaurant Rescue Plan, a bipartisan budget amendment proposed by Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), which lawmakers passed last month.
"Even when this proposal was stuck in Mitch McConnell's legislative graveyard, we refused to give up, because we knew it was the best opportunity to save independent restaurants," Blumenauer said in a statement. "With today's successful vote in the Senate, urgently needed aid will soon finally be on its way."
The grant money will help cover payroll, mortgages, rent, utilities and other operating expenses for approved restaurants.
Although the dollar amount is less than originally proposed, representatives from the restaurant industry welcomed the bill's passage.
"This is a decisive moment for the independent restaurant and bar community," said Erika Polmar, executive director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, in a statement. "Independent restaurants and bars came together at the beginning of the pandemic with the hope that by working together for the first time, our industry could make a big impact—and that's what we did."
The industry could use the boost: In Oregon, the pandemic knocked out 25 years of employment gains in the hospitality sector.