Restaurants and Bars Rush to Apply for New Federal Aid Program

The industry’s return will serve as a major test of President Biden’s goal of bringing the country back to some version of normal by this summer.

By Annie Karni

WASHINGTON — A total of 186,200 restaurants, bars and other eligible businesses applied for help from a new $28.6 billion federal aid program in the first two days it was accepting applications, President Biden said on Wednesday, indicating huge demand from a struggling industry for a limited pot of relief funds.

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund was created by Congress as part of the $1.9 trillion relief bill passed in March and began accepting applications online on Monday.

“That’s a staggering number,” Mr. Biden said of the opening flood of applications that came in from all 50 states. Business owners who were hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic can apply for grants of up to $10 million.

The return of the restaurant industry will serve as a major test of Mr. Biden’s goal of bringing the country back to some version of normal by this summer, both for 2.3 million people whose restaurant jobs disappeared during the pandemic and for vaccinated Americans eager to take advantage of newfound freedoms to go out and socialize again.

“Right now, only about a quarter of the restaurant owners expect to return to normal operations in the next six months,” Mr. Biden said. “We can do much better than that.”

Few sectors of the economy suffered the financial blow of the coronavirus pandemic last year as much as the restaurant industry, which saw business plummet with the shuttering of indoor dining in many states and closures of higher-priced restaurants that were not able to easily shift to takeout options. More than 110,000 restaurants and bars temporarily or permanently closed last year, according to the National Restaurant Association.

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