“Refill the Restaurant Revitalization Fund”: New Orleans Restaurants Ask Congress for Help

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The New Orleans economy is recovering from one of its toughest years to date. While things may seem to be booming, the businesses hit hardest by the pandemic are still far from safe. 

Many of the city’s 600+ restaurants, that weren’t forced to close temporarily or permanently during the pandemic, sustained losses over the last 15 months that the economy’s bounce-back cannot cover. 

Which is why they have taken to social media to ask Congress for help, creating campaigns that urge congressional leaders to refill the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. 

The Chloe Hotel & Restaurant has seen an uptick in lunch business recently but is still feeling the pain from the pandemic. “Even though things are starting to recover in the market – people still have a tremendous amount of debt and bills from the slow down of 2020,” said owner Robert Leblanc. Leblanc and other restaurant owners in the city have started targeted social media campaigns with the slogan “Congress: Refill the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.” 

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund was part of the American Rescue Plan passed in March, which provided $28.6 billion to businesses impacted by the pandemic. While that may seem like a lot of money, in reality, it wasn’t nearly enough. Around 362,000 businesses applied for around $75 billion in assistance during the program’s month-long window for applications.

“I applied to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund as soon as it opened, but Congress did not allocate enough funding for my business and countless others,” said Nina Compton, owner and chef of Compere Lapin and Bywater American Bistro in New Orleans. “I need this relief to keep my businesses afloat and support the farmers, producers, distributors, salesmen and other suppliers I have worked with for years.”

A group of bipartisan lawmakers now wants to refill the pot with an additional $60 billion. “While it appears that our work to prioritize restaurants most in need was successful in the first round, the extraordinary demand for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund shows that many more businesses still desperately need help,” commented Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon

The group of lawmakers says this additional funding will not only cover outstanding existing applications but will also allow the Small Business Administration to continue outreach for businesses impacted by the pandemic. 

“Our restaurants are now beginning to recover from a year of lost revenue, but many establishments are still hurting and have not been able to access aid for which they are eligible. Replenishing this fund would help restaurants, their staff, and the broader food supply chain as they continue to get back on their feet,” said Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. The original Restaurant Revitalization Fund was voted against by Republican lawmakers, however, Republicans from areas like New Orleans, where restaurants are so important to the city’s economy, have been trying to do right by constituents through supporting the fund. 

“So, we are looking into the issue. There is legislation being proposed that would benefit restaurants going forward, a little complicated. If you are in a town not dependent on tourism you probably don’t see this as important, in Louisiana it is very important to our state,” said Republican Senator Bill Cassidy

It’s estimated that restaurants lost as much as $290 billion in sales during the pandemic, according to an analysis by the National Restaurant Association. They also currently are employing 12% fewer people than before the pandemic. 

“People are running at the end of their lifelines. People are running out of lines of credit and landlords and vendors, understandably so, need to get paid, so this money helps us get back to zero,” Leblanc said.

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