By DENNIS SEID / Daily Journal

Republican Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) introduced legislation on Thursday to establish a fund for independent restaurants and drinking establishments hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The $120 billion bill, dubbed the Real Economic Support that Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed to Survive Act, or RESTAURANT Act, would provide grants to restaurants that are not publicly traded and have $1.5 million or less in revenue under normal circumstances.

The grant can be used to cover payroll, benefits, mortgage, rent, protective equipment, food or other costs. It provides an addition or substitute to loans provided through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which Congress passed in the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package in March, for restaurants to spend more on overhead costs, as well as payroll.

Wicker’s Senate bill allows for franchisees with 20 locations or fewer to access these grants.

Wicker mentioned on the call Thursday that the National Restaurant Association was involved with this legislation.

National Restaurant Association Executive Vice President of Public Affairs Sean Kennedy said the introduction of the bill provides “hope of survival for small business restaurant owners from the smallest towns to the broadest urban streets. It will help these struggling businesses, regardless of the sign on the door, who are still facing a difficult and uncertain future.”

Kennedy said the foodservice industry employs 10% of the U.S. workforce, and has an economic impact of more than $2.5 trillion dollars annually. He said the industry bore the brunt of the pandemic shutdown,wih more than 8 million workers unemployed and lost sales of more than $120 billion.

In April alone, 5.5 million restaurant employees were laid off, Wicker said.

“The dire situation for restaurants is not letting up. In just the last two weeks, state and local government mandates have shut down nearly 100,000 dining facilities across the country,” Wicker said. “Restaurants have hemorrhaged more jobs and revenue than any other economic sector, and every week more establishments face the prospect of bankruptcy.”