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NEW YORK — The restaurant capital of the country could get one of the biggest boosts from the new $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill passed by Congress Wednesday.

A special $28.6 billion grant program specifically for independent restaurants was included in the bill. In previous relief legislation, restaurants had to compete with all other small businesses for Paycheck Protection Program funds.

The grant program will be more tailored to the needs of restaurants, and the money is more flexible than the rules around PPP loans.  It can be used for payroll, benefits, supplies, rent and debt.

“Socially and economically disadvantaged individuals” are required to get priority.

The Independent Restaurants Coalition reports more than 100,000 restaurants and bars have closed since the pandemic began.  

Members of the Coalition joined New York Senator and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to cheer the importance of the specific restaurant funding during a virtual press conference Wednesday.

The majority leader said overall, New York is expected to get about $100 billion in relief including the restaurant dollars, along with other things in the bill like the $1,400 stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment benefits, education funding, healthcare funding and help directly for state and local budget deficits.

Schumer said the more than $28 billion in restaurant money should give everyone hope things will get back to normal one day soon.

“Restaurants are our heart and soul,” Schumer said.  “It’s one of the ways we get together and mix and mingle.”

But many restaurant owners are warning politicians not to declare victory early.

At La Bagel Delight in Brooklyn, which is in Schumer’s neighborhood, owner Frank Bavaro has needed two round of PPP loans to survive. He still had to cutback staff with foot traffic way down.
Bavaro said he will need more help to get through the home stretch of the pandemic.  

He is encouraged to hear about the $28.6 billion, but the real estate taxes on his building have gone up during the pandemic and surviving is certainly different from thriving.

“We need help all the way around,” Bavaro said. “How are we getting our employees back on their feet?”

Bavaro said he will not celebrate until his business picks back up.  He also said state and local governments need to do more.

“We are here, trying to make a living, trying to support our families,” he said.