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Biden promotes Covid restaurant aid program, says applications are 'staggering'

Biden highlighted the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and visited a Washington establishment that benefited from a pilot version of the program.
Image: U.S. President Biden visits a Mexican restaurant in the Union Market neighborhood in Washington
President Biden speaks with the staff Wednesday at Las Gemelas Taqueria restaurant in Washington, where he stopped for a carry-out lunch on Cinco de Mayo.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Wednesday promoted the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund, as he seeks to highlight ways in which his administration is delivering aid to people affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The restaurant program was established in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress in March and provides grants of up to $10 million to restaurants, bars, food trucks and other food and drink establishments. The money can be used to cover payroll, rent, utilities and supplies.

The White House said that in the first two days of the program — which began accepting applications Monday — 186,200 businesses had applied, underscoring the continuing demand for aid even as parts of the country begin to open back up and as more Americans get vaccinated.

"Restaurants are more than a major driver of our economy. They're woven into the fabric of our communities," Biden said in a speech Wednesday, calling the number of applications "staggering."

"For many families restaurants are the gateway to opportunity, the key part of the American story," he added.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that for the first 21 days of the program, the Small Business Association will prioritize establishments owned and run by women, veterans and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. Psaki said that 97,600 of the applications received in the first two days fell into those categories.

After the 21-day period, eligible applications will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Business owners who applied this week could expect to receive their grant within about 14 days, Psaki said.

Psaki recognized that there was a "large interest" in the program, adding that "when Congress comes back, we are happy to discuss the best ways to further support small businesses, including restaurants hurt by the crisis."

It is unclear how much of an appetite there will be in Congress for additional Covid-19 relief funding, especially as Biden turns his attention to passing $4 trillion in spending proposals addressing infrastructure and social safety net programs. Some industry leaders, meanwhile, are warning that the $28.6 billion allocated to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund will not be enough.

"The question on the minds of many is what happens when applications outpace the available funds," Tom Bené, CEO of the National Restaurant Association, wrote in a statement Monday.

"Restaurants are operating in an uncertain environment, with continued needs to restore customer confidence in their safety and to bring workers back into the economy. We will continue to work with policymakers to secure a comprehensive set of solutions, including additional funding for the RRF," Bené added.

Earlier Wednesday Biden visited Las Gemelas for lunch, a restaurant in Washington owned in part by Mexican immigrants that the White House said benefited from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund's pilot program.

Biden said he ordered tacos and enchiladas.