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Source: United States House of Representatives – Representative Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07)

Last week, U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger held a roundtable with U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-03) and Central Virginia restaurant owners to listen to their concerns, answer questions, and provide an update on ongoing efforts to secure significant, flexible relief dollars for independent restaurants in the next COVID-19 relief package.

Spanberger is a supporter of two bipartisan bills that would provide additional relief dollars to restaurant owners. The Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed To Survive (RESTAURANTS) Act – introduced by Blumenauer and cosponsored by Spanberger – would establish a $120 billion restaurant revitalization fund within the U.S. Department of Treasury. The fund would provide grants to food and drinking services that are not publicly traded or part of a chain with 20 or more locations. For the first two weeks of the grants existence,  eligible food and beverage purveyors with annual revenues of less than $1.5 million would receive priority, fixing previous errors in relief distribution and ensuring that help goes first toward small, independent businesses. The grant values would cover the difference between 2019 revenues and projected 2020 revenues. As colder months approach and restaurants invest in winterizing their outdoor spaces, RESTAURANTS Act grants would give restaurant owners the flexibility to cover costs including but not limited to payroll, heaters, tents, and other expenses.

Spanberger is also a cosponsor of the RESTART Act. This legislation would create a program to target the businesses that have been hardest-hit by the pandemic, including independent restaurants. Through the Small Business Administration, the program would offer loans for periods of up to one year to businesses that experienced a drop of 25% or more in their total income, compared to the equivalent time period prior to the pandemic. The loans would be forgivable for a wide range of expenses, including payroll costs, mortgage interest, rent, and payments to independent contractors.

“In Central Virginia, our communities have sadly seen too many entrepreneurs forced to close a business they worked for years to build – and too many more small businesses are teetering on the edge. I appreciated the opportunity to speak with local restaurant owners and hear their input on the next steps that are needed at the federal level,” said Spanberger. “While I am deeply disappointed by the partisan gridlock that has overtaken negotiations on a fifth relief package, I also won’t sit by and do nothing. These businesses add tremendous economic value to our economy, and the jobs they create support thousands of Virginia families. Restaurants need federal support, and I’m working to advance two bipartisan fixes that would provide additional forgivable loans and flexible grants to help independent restaurants across the country. I thank Congressman Blumenauer for his ongoing leadership in the fight to deliver urgent aid to American restaurants.”

“An independent restaurant gives an avenue to be able to have economic activity, provide engagement, and is such an important meeting place for our community,” said Blumenauer. “So we set about doing something that would meet the needs of one-half million independent restaurants across the country. And it is imperative, because they employ 11 million people, and this sector has been hit harder than any other. In the month of April when we started putting [this] legislation together, half the unemployment in America was in the independent restaurant sector. So we’ve designed a proposal that is tailored to their unique needs. It is not a loan – it is a grant. We identified $120 billion of resources that should be flowing to help keep these independent restaurants afloat. If we don’t do something like this within the next six months, we’re going to have up to 85 percent of independent restaurants close – many of them permanently. We’ve already lost about one sixth of America’s independent restaurants, and this relief can’t happen too soon. I am really excited to have the support of your Congresswoman. Abigail is deeply respected in Congress as an independent voice, somebody who looks carefully at problems and solutions.”

Click here to watch a portion of the Q&A with Central Virginia restaurant owner Chris Curtin.

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Click here to watch a portion of the Q&A with Richmond Restaurant Group Co-Founder Michelle Williams.

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Click here to watch Spanberger and Blumenauer’s opening remarks from the roundtable.

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In addition to cosponsoring the RESTAURANTS Act and the RESTART Act, Spanberger has worked to deliver aid to restaurants and improve the rules of existing relief programs to give restaurant owners the flexibility to make decisions that are best for their business.

When the rollout of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was plagued with implementation issues and burdensome guidance, Spanberger worked directly with the Treasury and Small Business Administration to make commonsense fixes. She successfully fought to revise the 75-25 rule after hearing from Virginia restaurants about how restrictive the rule was, and in May 2020 she voted to pass the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act, which was later signed into law by President Trump.

In April 2020, Spanberger led a bipartisan effort urging the Small Business Administration and Treasury to amend PPP guidance to more closely align eligible expenses and forgivable expenses by extending loan forgiveness to non-payroll costs like inventory, raw materials, and personal protective equipment (PPE).