Restaurant Revitalization Fund rolling out to businesses

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COLORADO SPRINGS — Tens of billions of dollars will begin to become available for restaurants and similar businesses as part of the American Rescue Plan. Colorado Democratic Senator John Hickenlooper met with business owners in Colorado Springs Wednesday to learn where restaurants need to spend that money.

Specifically, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) will help traditional restaurants, food trucks, food stands, caterers, saloons, inns, taverns, bars, lounges, brewpub, tasting room, licensed facility, or any similar business where people get together to be served food or drinks. The very specific list comes as some businesses, like Atrevida Beer Company, said they were left out because their business didn’t fit the tight mold laid out in previous relief funds.

“Our industry, all the small guys, are getting lost in that,” Atrevida Co-owner Rich Fierro with his wife, Jessica said. “We are not brew pubs and we can’t get access to those things.”

RRF is a $28.5 billion fund basing grants on the loss of sales businesses saw from 2019 to 2020, with $5 billion dedicated to businesses that earn less than $500,000 in 2019. The fund is aimed at being more flexible than the Paycheck Protection Program and can be used on things like payroll, rent, utilities, and construction.

A date for the program’s launch is still unclear, as the Small Business Administration still works to dole out the money part of the Shuttered Venue Operator Grant Program. The first three weeks will be dedicated for Veteran, Women, and Minority owned businesses because many of those businesses also lost out on earlier relief programs because of a lack of established relationship with lenders and Hickenlooper said those businesses have been over twice as likely to fail over the course of the pandemic.

Both Shuttered Venues and RRF come from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that, in part, extended unemployment benefits, provided $1,400 checks to Americans, and massively expanded the Child Tax Credit.

“I think we will see an economic lift-off that’s not just for a year or two then slow down,” Sen. Hickenlooper said. “This wouldn’t be worth doing if we weren’t getting ten years or twenty years of economic growth.”

The extension of the additional unemployment benefits, $300 per week on top of traditional benefits, comes to the concern of several restaurant owners. Both Brother Luck, who owns several establishments, and Nina Lee, who co-owns 503West with her husband, say those benefits are keeping people from following through on finding a job, at least in their industry.

“There’s a big pool of people that are collecting unemployment and they are fulfilling their status of reaching out and then not showing up for interviews and that’s what we’re getting on the back end,” Lee said. “We’re ready to move forward. We are so ready to move forward, but we need that staff to help us.”

Lee said it’s led to her and other business owners filling in as servers, dishwashers, and other positions just to keep up with the business.

Lee and Hickenlooper spoke about the problem of the restaurant industry’s short-staffed situation for some time Wednesday. Hickenlooper acknowledges that some people may be earning more than they would at work with the additional unemployment payments, but warns those benefits are going to be short-lived.

“Most people I talk to, they want to go back to work and they believe that by going back to work they will eventually make significantly more money,” Sen. Hickenlooper added. “It’s a relatively small number of people. There are some, I’m not arguing that.”

As money begins to roll out from the $1.9 trillion plan, President Joe Biden’s administration has announced a $2 trillion infrastructure plan.

The second spending plan has drawn criticism for the expansive use of the term “infrastructure” as well as for it’s size of spending, though it includes pay-fors by way of higher corporate taxes.

So far, Sen. Hickenlooper isn’t committing to supporting the plan but says it’s of historic significance, on par with what the federal government did to expand highways, infrastructure, and America’s influence in the years following World War II.

“It’s still a moving target,” the Senator said, “I’m not exactly sure what’s in it and what’s out of it, but I do believe that this is a moment in history.”

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