Advocates for the battered restaurant industry are calling on Congress to replenish the now depleted revitalization fund dedicated to helping ailing establishments get back on their feet after more than a year of COVID-related starts and stops.
The pandemic created a challenging environment that forced roughly 90,000, or about 1 in 10 restaurants, to close as owners struggled do business in any kind of way that made financial sense for them.
Those that remain are still saddled with debt from the government's paycheck protection program and other temporary relief measures. They also face a new set of challenges as they try to claw their way back to profitability.
Husband-and-wife duo Sabrina Hulm and Craig Henry, owners of JoJo's Colorado BBQ in Fort Collins, Colorado, are slowly growing their new business despite COVID-19.
The barbecue joint, which opened just before the coronavirus hit, had to close its small dining area and focus exclusively on delivery and takeout.
"Just grateful to be here"
"Our growth might be low and slow but we're just grateful to be here and we're grateful to have a business," Hulm told CBS News correspondent Dillon Thomas.
But surviving establishments like JoJo's still face challenges ahead. Food and hospitality businesses across the U.S., who are demanding higher pay and better conditions while they can.
Food costs are rising, too.
Jessica Barrus of Michigan's Fieldstone Grill can't get her hands on enough chicken to serve her customers.
"Telling our guests that we're out of chicken is a sentence I thought I'd never say, but we legitimately just couldn't get the chicken," she told CBS News.
JoJo's is also grappling with rising meat prices, but is hopeful that business will bounce back as COVID-19 ebbs and activities like dining out pick up again.
"Crushing amount of debt"
Still, these challenges underscore the importance of replenishing the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund administered by the Small Business Administration.
"Restaurants are still dealing with a crushing amount of debt that they've taken on over the past 15 months when they were forced to be closed," said Sean Kennedy executive vice president of public affairs for the National Restaurant Association. "This project should be an absolute lifeline for the restaurant industry, the nation's second largest private sector employer."
The Independent Restaurant Coalition, formed during the pandemic to save local restaurants, said the latest measure was underfunded given that restaurants and bars sought $72 billion in relief.
On Monday, nearly a thousand independent restaurant owners, workers and advocates rallied in Washington, D.C., to call for the fund to be replenished.
According to the IRC, 177,000 restaurants received no relief from the program.
"It is clear to everyone that cares about this issue that the Restaurant Revitalization Fund needs to be replenished so that all 177,000 small businesses that applied for, and still desperately need, relief can get it," said IRC co-founder Andrew Zimmern. "We didn't get to this point by hoping for a government intervention. We got here because so many of the 500,000 independent restaurants nationwide, our 11 million employees, our 5 million suppliers and more made enough noise that our lawmakers realized how critical it was to take action and save our industry."
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