The federal Small Business Administration is opening applications on May 3 at noon for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a $28.6 billion pot of money to help the restaurant industry devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year.
Registration for the applications begins April 30 30 at 9 a.m., the federal agency announced, and applications will remain open until funds run out.
Grants are capped at $10 million per business, and $5 million per location, and have to be completely used by March 11, 2023.
In order to target smaller employers, there are tiered set-asides for businesses depending on how much revenue they earned in 2019: $5 billion for businesses with up to half a million dollars in gross revenue, $500 million for businesses with up to $50,000 made in 2019, and $4 billion for restaurants that made between half a million dollars and $1.5 million in 2019.
“Restaurants are the core of our neighborhoods and propel economic activity on main streets across the nation,” reads a statement from SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman. “They are among the businesses that have been hardest hit and need support to survive this pandemic. We want restaurants to know that help is here.”
Between March and the first half of June last year, New Jersey restaurants were open only for take-out and delivery, with sit-down dining – both in- and outdoor – closed the entire time. Establishments were allowed to reopen for outdoor dining only beginning last June, and finally allowed to resume indoor dining at 25% capacity beginning Labor Day weekend last year. Indoor capacity expanded to 35% just before Super Bowl weekend, and then to 50% last month.
But owners say these restrictions, plus increased sanitization and social distancing efforts, have been devastating for their businesses.
The SBA is most known for the federal Paycheck Protection Program, an aid program enacted last year under then-President Donald Trump, which provides forgivable loans to businesses if they use the funds to keep their staff on the payroll.
As of April 27, the SBA awarded nearly $771 billion of PPP loans to 10.2 million businesses, of which $7.6 billion was awarded t0 122,739 New Jersey businesses.
Like with the PPP program, funds do not have to be repaid under the RRF program if they are used for “eligible expenses.”
According to the National Restaurant Association, those include payroll costs and sick leave; rent and utilities; maintenance and the addition of outdoor dining accommodations; food and beverage inventory; and personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.
The program was part of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan that President Joe Biden signed in March.
At the state level, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority is setting up a $35 million relief program for pandemic-hit bars and restaurants.
Applications went live April 26 for another SBA program, the long-awarded Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, which entails $16 billion in funds to help theaters, museums, venues and other live event spaces hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.e