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Amount more than doubles original $28.6 billion; Oregon Democrat has lined up support in the Senate.

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer praised House approval of more money for federal grants to restaurants and other small businesses hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill (HR 3807) passed Thursday, April 7, on a 223-203 vote largely along party lines. It would replenish a restaurant revitalization fund by $60 billion, more than double the $28.6 billion originally included in the $2 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, President Joe Biden's pandemic recovery plan that he signed last year.

Nearly 1,000 Oregon restaurateurs got help from the original fund, but the $28.6 billion went out the door almost as soon as the Small Business Administration opened its online portals. Blumenauer, a Democrat from Portland who represents Oregon's 3rd District, proposed a $120 billion fund with the help of Portland restaurateurs back in mid-2020.

Blumenauer estimates that 177,000 more restaurateurs await aid. National chains are ineligible to participate.

It took a letter initiated by Blumenauer and signed by more than 150 of his colleagues, including Oregon Democrats Suzanne Bonamici of Beaverton, Peter DeFazio of Springfield and Kurt Schrader of Canby, to get House leaders to schedule a vote on the follow-up bill.

As part of the leisure and hospitality business sector, restaurants were hit hard by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic two years ago — when virtually all were forced to resort to takeout service or close altogether — and the subsequent delta and omicron variants.

Blumenauer said this sector employs more than its share of women, minorities and immigrants.

Around 90,000 independent restaurants have closed nationally, and a survey indicates that 85% of those remaining fear they may have to close without aid.

Just six Republicans joined most Democrats to pass the latest bill. Four Democrats sided with 199 Republicans against it. Oregon's delegation split along party lines with Republican Cliff Bentz of Ontario opposing it.

The bill goes to the Senate, where Blumenauer said Feb. 8 he has enlisted support from the Democratic chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee and the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee.

His statement

Blumenauer's statement after House passage of the bill:

"While we are moving out of the crisis phase of this pandemic, the devastating economic impacts will linger for years. Restaurants and their employees have been hit harder than any other industry during this crisis. They were the first forced to shut down by state and local government in March 2020, and they were the last allowed to reopen. Unemployment in the restaurant industry remains stubbornly slow to recover and approximately 90,000 restaurants have closed permanently since the start of the pandemic.

"Restaurants are the cornerstone of a livable community: They have employed nearly 60% of Americans at some point in their lives, they are a major source of employment for people of color, and they support a $1 trillion supply chain. It is not enough to address just the health-related concerns of this pandemic, we must support our beloved restaurants and protect the jobs, supply chains, and local economies they support.

"The federal government has provided some help to these institutions through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a program based on my RESTAURANTS Act that I first introduced in June 2020. But the program has fallen short. Only one-third of all applicants were funded, leaving nearly 177,000 hanging in the balance.

"Today's vote for my Relief for Restaurants and Other Hard-Hit Small Businesses Act finishes the job. This legislation is simple: It funds restaurants that did not receive awards, it helps other battered industries like live events, travel, hospitality and fitness, and it supports shuttered venues. And it will be paid for with fraudulent pandemic relief funds that are recovered.

"While COVID case numbers are low and the American public is ready to move beyond the pandemic, our small businesses have still not fully recovered — which is why this legislation is so critical. I look forward to advocating for this legislation passage in the Senate and getting it to the president's desk."

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