To all Senators:
Since 2012, I have been an advocate for the restaurant industry, and our restaurant was part of a Senate Hearing on restaurants way back then in 2012.
In May of 2021, I began advocating for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund; our restaurant, Reverie Kitchen, had been voted Best American and Best French restaurant ahead of Le Petit Café and Union League at the end of 2019 after 3 years at the stove. I do not have a fancy title. I came to the restaurant industry later in my career to work with my brother Paul, a former apprentice to Jacques Pépin. I worked in law firms that put me through Harvard. I worked in aerospace and managed components to the B-2 and the space shuttle programs. What I learned along the way is the importance of work ethics, the value of my word and the importance of my team in accomplishing our goals. On my desk stands, the wisdom I have learned that, “Quality is always the result of complete focus, passionate effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution”.
I stepped up to advocate for my restaurants and for the independent restaurant industry in May of 2021, when I saw the tragic situation unfold where Congress failed to appropriately fund the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. Let me be clear. Congress passed the American Rescue Plan and helped everyone under the sun, but Congress underfunded restaurants across America, and on top of all that, repeatedly told all Americans it was not safe to dine in restaurants. The industry suffered losses of $240 billion in 2020 alone, and $146 billion in losses in 2021. More than 110,000 restaurants closed, and a busy couple of months does not make up for losses of that magnitude.
In August of 2021, Senator Cardin tried to bring S.2675 unanimous consent to the Senate floor to pass replenishment of the RRF for the restaurants that remain unfunded. Senator Rand Paul blocked that effort in the Senate by stating that the reason that restaurants are in the situation they are in is because Democrat governors shut them down. No one in the entire Senate stood up to correct Rand Paul, no one. There is no evidence whatsoever that the devastating financial impact that restaurants suffered were caused by Democratic governors; in fact, the two “most open” states appear highest on the RRF Grant List: Texas and Florida.
Update: The SBA has confirmed to the National Restaurant Association on Wednesday it’s working with the Department of Justice to distribute $180 million as Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) awards. “Right now, it is unclear when—or how—the money will be awarded. We have offered the SBA a platform to provide an update to the industry on the distribution of these funds,” an Association spokesperson said in an email. “We continue work to push for the interest of the 177,000 foodservice operators waiting to hear of they will receive an RRF grant from this money.”
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts, and restaurants were in this situation because the government closed our businesses, period. This is not like other industries provided assistance in the past, like airlines, the auto, banking, insurance and mortgage industries, or even the CHIPS industry recently bailed out. Each of those industries were responsible for their own demise; they made decisions that created the hardships they suffered by overleveraging, by investing poorly, by going offshore, etc. Not restaurants. The government closed our businesses.
Persevering as I always do, I continued to advocate for RRF Replenishment. I had more than 40 meetings at Senate offices. The prevailing excuse not to support the legislation was its impact on inflation, another utter falsehood, as RRF Replenishment saves Main Street Restaurants who have supported our communities for decades, and restaurants contribute more than $900 billion to the America economy every year, with annual sales that increase by more than $36 billion every year. Restaurants employ more than 12 million people. One in 10 Americans work in the restaurant industry, and 10 percent of all payroll jobs across America are in restaurants. I also contacted leading economists on the legislation’s impact to the economy and the response, over and over, was that this legislation enables restaurants to survive and thrive, to recover from being shut down by the government, and helps affiliated small businesses in sales, banking, trucking, airlines, farmers etc., because why? Because small business is integrally interconnected to the success of other small businesses. No brainer.
Since May of last year, Democrat leadership, advised us that we needed 10 republicans to pass RRF Replenishment, and we all continued to advocate. Independent restaurants run on slim margins; most independents are family-owned, single unit restaurants. We have no big money, or fancy lobbyists to buy our way forward, and we looked to our representatives in Washington to do the right thing promised to us under the America Rescue Plan and help restaurants impacted so dearly by extended closure during the Pandemic.
In April, with the support of my Congresswoman, Rosa DeLauro, RRF passed the House and on May 19th, the Legislation failed Cloture: 52–43. It is simply un-American and egregious that our elected representatives failed restaurants and small business across America. It is simply un-American and egregious that an elected body failed to keep its promise to help restaurants. It is simply un-American and egregious that 67 percent of the restaurants who applied for RRF still remain unfunded in the SBA Portal.
On my last visit to Washington, I met with OMB on this issue and discussed remaining COVID Relief Line items that could fund this RRF Legislation; Covid Relief line items were also confirmed by the Committee for A Responsible Budget. At that time, I also proposed a RRF Disaster Loan with Forgiveness after 24 months, which would greatly minimize the impact to the economy and would provide the “guard rails” to ensure the aid was distributed equitably.
The bottom line is that the RRF Legislation is fundable by utilizing existing Covid Relief Funding, by implementing program or policy changes or by implementing the smallest margin of Tax Policy, or a combination of those initiatives. It is not a question of votes, it is a question of ethics, of your word and your ability to work as a team to implement a program that saves the restaurants that, on the record, you already promised to help, where you and all Americans spend their life moments. This is your life moment, and all independent restaurants across America are watching and urging you to do the right thing by adding RRF Replenishment to Reconciliation, fully offset by Covid Relief funding, by other policy/program funding or by tax policy dollars. You have this opportunity to pass this in Reconciliation, do not waste it. Our restaurants, our homes, our employees and our entire family livelihoods are at stake.
You have this opportunity, keep your promise to independent restaurants. A promise is a promise.
Diana Staley is the owner of Reverie Kitchen in Connecticut.