This week, we write about the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which is part of the larger American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. More than 100,000 restaurants across the nation received an average of $283,000 in the first several months of the fund’s existence. Depending upon their circumstances, restaurants were eligible for up to $5 million to cover their pandemic-related revenue losses. Pacifica restaurants benefited from the federal government program, too, and their grants are a matter of public record.

Let’s start with this: Restaurants in virtually every community are crucial meeting places for families. They are where business is conducted. They are sources of pride as civic boosters proclaim this one has the best burrito, that one the best barbecue. They quite literally sustain us. But, as we know, the industry was among the hardest hit by the pandemic and the accompanying regulations that proved necessary to keep us alive.

Last year, 12.5 million Americans were employed by restaurants, according to the National Restaurant Association. While that is an enormous workforce, the association reports that it’s down about a quarter from what would be expected if not for the pandemic. The industry trade group says that 110,000 restaurants have closed permanently. Lest you think we’re talking primarily about fast-food chains and large corporate restaurants, the trade group says 9 in 10 restaurants employ fewer than 50 people.

Mom-and-pop restaurants that provide the flavor of our community were perhaps uniquely at risk during the COVID-19 crisis. Rules for dining outside of our homes have shifted repeatedly. There is added expense for personal protective equipment and outdoor infrastructure. To say nothing of the challenge finding workers. Many are understandably afraid to interact with the public and others were comfortably accommodated by a boost in unemployment benefits.

Meanwhile, the bills still arrived in the mail. There was no postponement of property tax bills or rent payments for restaurant owners. Employees still had to be paid. And the cost of many raw ingredients shot through the roof.

As a result of all that, the government help thus far has not been enough. There are currently two bills pending in Washington that could revitalize the revitalization fund, and we’re hoping lawmakers from both side of the aisle will figuratively find a seat at our collective table and carve off a little bit more to feed a restaurant industry starving for aid.

Programs like the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and the Payroll Protection Program have been a lifeline. So, in writing about them here, we do not mean to embarrass local businesses or suggest in any way that they are unduly benefiting from government largess. To the contrary: This is government spending that is making a real difference in our communities, that is ensuring continued employment and giving customers — in other words, the rest of us — hope.

Kudos to the local restaurant owners who worked through the application process and used the money to continue to operate. And thank you to the men and women who continue to work at our local restaurants at considerable risk to themselves and their families. Stay safe and we hope you keep cooking.

— Clay Lambert

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