Los Cubanitos Bakery, a breakfast and lunch staple located on Park Street in Hartford’s Frog Hollow neighborhood, was one of the thousands of local restaurants that were – and still primarily are – impacted by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. In an interview the owner, Maria Nuñec, noted that every part of her business was affected: from the supply chain, to inflation, to a downturn in customers, to labor shortage and the costly effects of new safety measures. Further, she says each additional wave of Covid-19 “definitely hurts.”
Restaurants are at the center of our neighborhoods. They bring economic activity and a sense of community to our Connecticut towns. Yet, these same restaurants have been among the hardest hit businesses since the initial statewide lockdown in March 2020. The industry runs on razor-thin margins and was disproportionately affected by the global pandemic, with 45% more job losses than the next-closest industry.
In June of 2021, Congress passed the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a $28.6 billion fund allocated to restaurants and bars. The fund provided selected restaurants with money equal to their revenue loss of up to $10 million, with no requirement to return it if it is used by March of 2023. So many restaurants applied that the fund ran out of money. A report revealed that 3,369 Connecticut restaurants applied for $790,818,094 in grants from the federal fund. In the end, 1,303 received funding, totaling $301,164,069. The Restaurant Revitalization Fund saved more than 12,000 Connecticut restaurant jobs and helped 97% of recipients remain in business.
In 2022, mainly due to the emergence of the omicron variant, many federal and state legislators called for additional restaurant-specific funding. However, since the recent $1.5 trillion Covid-19 relief bill excluded a second Restaurant Revitalization fund, Connecticut restaurants counting on federal money to keep their doors open are now at risk of closing. A National Restaurant Association survey found that 88% of restaurants saw reduced demand for indoor dining due to the Omicron variant. The group estimates that the initial round of RRF grants saved 900,000 restaurant jobs and that replenishing the fund would save more than 1.6 million jobs. The association further wrote that around half of the 177,000 eligible restaurants that missed out on federal aid will struggle to stay in business without additional support.
Today, another 18,000 restaurant jobs in Connecticut are currently at risk if another round of funding is not passed. Further, 96% of restaurant operators who applied for an RRF grant, but did not receive funding, said a future grant would enable them to retain or hire back employees. In February of 2022, a survey conducted by the CRA found that 51% of restaurant owners are not sure if they will stay open beyond the pandemic without additional funding.
Both Democrats and Republicans backed the second Restaurant Revitalization Fund Bill in Congress, including all of Connecticut’s representatives. Senator Richard Blumenthal recently remarked, “I’m hoping my colleagues will realize that we are on the brink of failing countless restaurants, big and small, that have survived the past year and need to finish this marathon. It has been a marathon. They are in the very last few miles. They need some support to sustain this last part of the marathon.”
If the federal government will not act, then Connecticut must act independently to save its restaurants. We must pass our own state version of a restaurant revitalization fund. While budget constraints may limit the availability of funds for such proposals, other state governments have offered loans, grants, and tax rebates to small businesses in recent months. For example, Ohio provided state grants to restaurants, bars, and other businesses affected by the pandemic. Many other states have announced they are considering similar measures.
Consider passing another round of Restaurant Revitalization Fund grants to help the 2,066 Connecticut restaurants excluded from the initial round of funding. Call your local congressional representatives to demand a replenished restaurant revitalization fund. Many of our most cherished restaurants will not survive if Connecticut fails to act. The numbers tell the story. Support your local restaurants.
Charlie Kilborn is a senior at Trinity College from Chicago, Illinois. He is majoring in Public Policy.