WASHINGTON – The National Restaurant Association (NRA) is asking lawmakers to pass a $240 billion emergency relief fund to help the sector recover from job and financial losses spurred by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The association pitched to ranking members of Congress a “Blueprint for Recovery” plan as a strategy to help the foodservice sector, which has not benefited broadly from previous initiatives such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

A national survey of 6,500 foodservice operations conducted by the association found the industry lost more than 8 million employees as a result of COVID-19 closures. Additionally, more than 60% of restaurant owners said that existing federal relief programs – including the CARES Act – will not help them to keep their employees on payroll during the pandemic.

The NRA said restaurants lost $30 billion in March and were on track to lose $50 billion in April. The association forecast COVID-19-related losses of more than $240 billion nationwide by the end of 2020.

“You have worked in short order to pass three bipartisan bills that fund public health programs, ensure the safety of our workforce, and provide economic support to small businesses trying to stay afloat,” said Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs for the NRA, in a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and US Representative Kevin McCarthy.

“Initiatives like the Paycheck Protection Program offer tremendous potential, but unfortunately the unique business model of our industry and our slower path to recovery make it less of a lifeline. Changes to its implementation could provide immense help.

“But more importantly, just as Congress has provided targeted relief for specific industries, we urge you to consider focused assistance for the restaurant industry and its employees. Every restaurant model, from the beloved corner diner, to the favorite independent restaurant, to the well-known chain has an uncertain future as economic damage wrecks an industry that is only marginally profitable even in the best of times.”

Under the Restaurant and Foodservice Industry Recovery Fund (RFIRF), the US Department of Treasury would administer a grant program that will support:

  • ongoing operating expenses and debt;
  • rehiring and retraining of the industry's workforce; and
  • provide a financial lifeline for restaurants to reopen and adjust to social distancing protocol and new health and safety standards.

Qualifying restaurants should be limited to those operating before March 15, 2020, and that have suffered significant sales and job losses related to the pandemic.

The plan also calls on Congress to fix what the NRA said are structural issues of the PPP.

“The PPP, which offers some bridge-assistance to small businesses, became insolvent on April 15, 2020, and is in need additional funding,” the RFIRF said. “However, the shortcomings and implementation of the program have created onerous constraints and restrictions on borrowers that should be immediately addressed as additional funding is appropriated.”

Additional initiatives presented in the RFIRF include:

  • a Tax Credit or Grant Program for “Healthy Restaurants”;
  • Federal Relief for Employer’s Share of Unemployment Insurance;
  • passing the “SNAP COVID-19 Anti-Hunger Restaurant Relief for You Act of 2020” (SNAP CARRY Act); and
  • more funding for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs).

The association’s Blueprint for Recovery can be found here. Click here to read a copy of the letter to the leaders of the US House and Senate.