By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Jan 07, 2022 at 9:02 AM

Mayors from across the nation – representing over 16 million Americans from 26 cities – are urging Congressional leadership to renew funding for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), noting that inaction on Congress’s behalf will cause catastrophic impacts on their communities.

Collectively, the mayors represent over 15 million Americans in cities from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Chicago, Denver, Lincoln and Boise. Among them is former Mayor Tom Barrett, who signed the letter before turning over the mayoral reins to Common Council President Cavalier Johnson on Dec. 22, 2021.

The plea follows reports of early discussions by Democratic and Republican lawmakers about the potential for another round of coronavirus stimulus spending (largely focused on relief for businesses) in light of the swiftly spreading omicron variant.

Last March, $28.6 billion in grants was allocated for struggling restaurants as part of the American Rescue Plan. However, the money ran out in October, leaving approximately two-thirds of applicants without relief. 

The Independent Restaurant Coalition, who first proposed such a grant program, estimates that as many as 82% of restaurants and bars who applied for RRF could close this winter unless Congress takes additional action.

Current legislation to refill the RRF carries wide bipartisan support. In fact, 295 lawmakers in the House of Representatives and 52 members of the Senate have signed onto four pieces of legislation supporting adding money to the RRF (H.R. 3807H.R. 4568S.2091, and S. 2675). And yet, the White House has not yet taken action.

“Restaurants are closing around the country, thousands of jobs are on the line, Mayors of major cities are begging members of Congress to save these businesses, and yet the Biden Administration is not ready to act” notes Erika Polmar, Executive Director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition.

“Nearly 200,000 restaurants that applied for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund did not receive support. Now the Omicron Variant is forcing small businesses to choose between keeping their staff and community safe and paying their bills. Congress and the White House need to make helping restaurants a priority before it’s too late.”

The mayoral letter

The mayors' letter, which is addressed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leaders Mitch McConnell and Kevin Mccarthy reads as follows:

"Restaurants in big and small cities across the country are hurting, and if they do not receive help soon the impact on our local economies will be catastrophic. The sudden emergence of the Omicron variant is causing more strife for restaurants and bars in such peril that they might not survive the winter. Without Congress acting urgently to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) 86% of independent restaurants and bars that didn’t receive grants risk permanently closing. 

"Failing to refill the RRF soon will cause widespread closures and deal another blow to our already fragile supply chains. Prices have already shot through the roof for basic products like beef (41%), grains (38%) and shortening and cooking oil (44%) — losing the restaurants these suppliers depend on would cause even more harm to this tenuous system. 

"Local independent restaurants and bars are vital to our economies. Restaurants and bars breathe life into our neighborhoods, provide unparalleled opportunities for career advancement and facilitate commerce between local suppliers. Now these small businesses, many that have served our communities for decades, are on the edge of shutting their doors forever. Over 100,000 restaurants and bars received vital protections from the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund included in the American Rescue Plan, but over 177,000 applicants were denied funding altogether. These businesses cannot compete with their peers that can pay down their debts, make repairs and hire workers at competitive rates — it is not fair for the government to pick winners and losers. 

"Restaurants and bars are months beyond struggling, they are dying in plain sight. They have 22 months of debt from missed rent, supplier and utility payments and are putting off repairs that needed to be addressed months ago. The cold weather has ended outdoor dining and now the omicron variant is reinvigorating fears in guests who are scared to eat indoors. These small businesses on the brink of financial ruin have to compete with their counterparts that can pay down their debts, pay competitive rates and take whatever extra measures necessary to keep their guests and staff safe. Congress cannot only fix a third of the problem the pandemic created — representatives need to ensure these small businesses have the relief they need to navigate the uncertain future and pay down their debt. 

"That’s why we’re writing to ask that you refill the RRF with additional aid for this industry. A broad, bipartisan majority of lawmakers support bills to get this done in both the House (H.R.3807 and H.R.4568) and the Senate (S.2091 and S.2675). To date, 295 representatives in the House and 52 Senators have signed on in support of refilling the RRF. 

"We have worked with these business owners to develop policies and grant programs — developing additional revenue streams to help these restaurants and bars stay afloat. Despite our efforts, over 90,000 restaurants have closed and the industry has lost over $280 billion during the pandemic. Now time is up for the more than 177,000 restaurants and bars languishing in the SBA’s application program. Restaurants serve our communities, employ families, and feed our economy. We need your help so they can continue serving our cities for years to come."

Respectfully, 

Mayor Eric Adams, New York, NY
Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird, Lincoln, NE
Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin, Raleigh, NC
Former Mayor Tom Barrett, Milwaukee, WI
Former Mayor Thomas W Bernard, North Adams, MA
Mayor London N. Breed, San Francisco, CA
Mayor Aaron Brockett, Boulder CO
Mayor LaToya Cantrell, New Orleans, LA
Mayor Mike Coffman, Aurora, CO
Mayor Kate Colin, San Rafael, CA
Mayor John Cooper, Nashville, TN 
Mayor Kate Dexter, Port Angeles, WA
Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford, Camden, SC
Former Mayor Jenny Durkin, Seattle, WA
Mayor Jacob Frey, Minneapolis, MN
Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles, CA
Mayor Michael B. Hancock, Denver, CO
Mayor Tim Keller, Albuquerque, NM
Mayor Jim Kenney, Philadelphia, PA
Mayor Indya Kincannon, Knoxville, TN 
Mayor Lori E Lightfoot, Chicago, IL
Mayor Esther E. Manheimer, Asheville, NC
Mayor Erin Mendenhall, Salt Lake City, UT
Mayor Lauren McLean, Boise, ID  
Mayor Libby Shaaf, Oakland, CA 
Mayor John J Tecklenburg, Charleston, SC
Mayor Miro Weinberger, Burlington, VT 
Mayor Michelle Wu, Boston, MA

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.