In visit to Mexican restaurant, Biden calls attention to new COVID-relief grants for eateries

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden ordered tacos and enchiladas at Mexican restaurant on Wednesday while calling attention to a new $28.6 billion government program that offers grants to eateries slammed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden paid a Cinco de Mayo visit to Taqueria Las Gemelas, a restaurant in northeast Washington that was one of the first to receive funding under the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. Biden chatted with the restaurant staff and ordered food to go.

The restaurant, owned in part by Mexican immigrants Yesenia Neri Diaz and Rogelio Martinez, saw its staff shrink from 55 employees to seven during the coronavirus pandemic. The emergency funding will allow the owners to complete delayed projects and provide raises to their staff, the White House said.

“The restaurant industry was so badly hurt nationwide, and that’s why we put this restaurant revitalization fund back together,” Biden said.

Biden is set to deliver additional remarks on the program from the White House on Wednesday.

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President Joe Biden orders food from Taqueria Las Gemelas (Twin Girls), a restaurant in northeast Washington, DC, to call attention to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which provides relief to bars and restaurants hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Las Gemelas was a beneficiary of funding.

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which started accepting applications Monday, was part of Biden’s American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion package that provides relief to Americans and businesses still suffering financially from the pandemic. Biden signed the bill into law in March.

Under the program, restaurants and bars are eligible for grants up to $10 million per business and $5 million per location. The money can be used for eligible expenses such as payroll and rent and does not have to be repaid as long as it’s used no later than March 11, 2023.

The law set aside $9.5 billion for the smallest bars and restaurants. Small businesses owned by women, veterans and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals will be given priority for review and funding during the first 21 days of the program. Afterward, applications will be funded on a first-come, first-served basis.

Restaurants and bars have been particularly hard by the pandemic. Roughly 6 million workers at restaurants, bars and other eating and drinking establishments – nearly half of their employees – lost or left their jobs between February and April 2020. Employment rebounded as pandemic-related shutdowns and other restrictions eased, but the industry was still down 2.3 million jobs at the end of 2020.

President Joe Biden speaks at Tidewater Community College on Monday in Portsmouth, Virginia. Biden and first lady Jill Biden were in coastal Virginia to promote his plans to increase spending on education and children, part of his proposed $1.8 trillion American Families Plan.

While the actual number of restaurants and bars permanently lost during the pandemic may not be known for some time, research suggests that more than 400,000 small businesses across industries have permanently closed and millions more are struggling to make ends meet, the White House said.

In the first two days of the new program, 186,200 restaurants, bars and other eligible businesses in all 50 states and the District of Columbia applied for relief. Some 46,400 applications came from businesses owned and controlled by women, while 4,200 were owned by veterans and 30,800 by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.

About 61,700 came from businesses with under $500,000 in annual revenue before the pandemic, representing some of the smallest restaurants and bars in the country.

Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.

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