Elizabeth Warren, U.S. senator from Massachusetts, is calling on state residents to put their support behind a bill to replenish pandemic restaurant aid for hospitality businesses across the country.
Last year, over 2,500 Massachusetts restaurants received federal aid as part of the American Rescue Plan’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund. It wasn’t enough. Many are experiencing another tough winter and wondering when — or if — more aid will come.
In March 2021, the American Rescue Plan stimulus bill was signed into law, granting nearly $30 billion in federal funds earmarked for restaurants. Of that funding, almost $1 billion went to Massachusetts restaurants in grants from the low thousands up to $10 million. By the end of June 2021, the fund was already depleted, leaving countless restaurants in need. In mid-June 2021, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona introduced Bill S.2091, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act of 2021, which aims to add $60 billion in additional restaurant aid. It’s been languishing in Congress since then.
Along with Massachusetts’s other U.S. senator, Ed Markey, Warren is among 42 co-sponsors of the bill — 36 Democrats and six Republicans. Speaking with Eater Boston by phone last week, Warren acknowledged the urgency of passing the bill and getting aid to the restaurants that need it most. “People need the money right now,” Warren said. “Congress should have stepped up months ago going into the winter, but here we are now, and with omicron hitting so much harder than most people anticipated, that’s been a double blow to the restaurants, so we need to get the help out the door fast.”
The Senate is currently tied up with the voting rights bill, but afterward, Warren said she wants to see an immediate pivot to replenishing the money in the restaurant fund. “There are a lot of restaurants here in Massachusetts that are hanging on by their fingernails,” she said. “What I’m pushing for now is to move this up in our priorities. I want to see that money out the door as soon as we possibly can.”
What’s to prevent the challenges the fund faced the first time around? Warren thinks simplicity is the key. “I think it’s a real mistake to pass a law that forces someone who’s a really good chef to have to become an expert in federal law,” she said. “I want us to tweak this bill so that it’s simple and dependable and the money goes first to those who were shut out last time and then to people who really need it right now. I want to see it go to the small restaurants, the independently owned restaurants. They are the heart of our communities, and that’s where I want to see that money go.”
Restaurants nationwide are facing immense challenges as the pandemic continues, but restaurants in colder states like Massachusetts have the added hurdle of outdoor dining not really being feasible year-round. Massachusetts also has more COVID-related regulations in place than many other states,