169 Grants May be the End of the RRF
by David Klemt
UPDATE: According to some sources, the report of $180 million in “leftover” RRF money are inaccurate. The disbursement of $83 million represents the final release of RRF funds.
The $83 million in grants going out this week to 169 recipients may be the end of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund in its entirety.
Unfortunately, it’s possible last week’s awards represent the final grants. This, despite the Government Accountability Office (GAO) finding $180 million in funds in July.
As far as the sources of these funds, that topic remains a bit vague.
However, the story is that more than $150 million are the result of clawbacks. More than a third, if reporting is accurate, is the result of recipients or financial institutions returning grants. Reports indicate another $24 million come from the SBA setting aside $24 million for litigation.
Per the National Restaurant Association months ago, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 does not include a provision for a litigation fund. Therefore, the NRA called for the SBA to disburse that money to RRF applicants.
What we do know is that last week’s RRF grant recipients should be receiving their funds this week. According to the SBA, 169 recipients were awarded a portion of $83 million in RRF money.
Again, that’s money the GAO found back in July. It’s also less than half of the reported $180 million the government agency found this summer.
Given the fact that the SBA announced a disbursement of just 46 percent of the “leftover” funds, many believed another round was in the works. Sadly, that may not be the case. It’s possible—and increasingly likely, regrettably—that the rest of the $180 million in funds won’t go to grant applicants.
Now, I want to be clear on one important point: I’m relieved for the 169 grant recipients. I truly hope the funds arrive in time to help them and their teams.
While I’ll feel disappointment if a second round of the $180 million never materializes, I’m happy for those who received a portion of the $83 million awarded last week.
So, where does the industry go from here? The failure of Congress to replenish the RRF left a reported 150,166 applicants with zero assistance. According to Nation’s Restaurant News, it would have taken $41 billion to award each applicant a grant. Obviously, $180 million was never going to serve to help that many applicants.
Frustratingly, the answer to the question above appears to be: Move forward on our own. And that unsatisfactory answer has flooded with me opinions.
One opinion? Our industry, it seems, is always left to fend for itself. Despite the millions of people hospitality employs, lawmakers and politicians don’t seem willing to assist us—and therefore their constituents—in meaningful ways.
Another opinion? Perhaps we need to build a more powerful lobby to have our voices heard. Such an effort began in earnest to support the RRF. However, too many elected officials were comfortable refusing to replenish the fund.
A third opinion was shaped by Eileen Wayner, CEO of Tales of the Cocktail. As a guest on the Bar Hacks podcast she addressed the perception of operators and hospitality workers as being adaptable and resilient.
While those characteristics can be admirable, Wayner expressed something I think we all feel: Sometimes, we’re tired of being resilient. Sometimes, we’re tired of being expected to adapt. There are times our industry needs help.
When you’re constantly seen as resilient, people believe you don’t need assistance. What we’ve seen with the RRF and its failed replenishment is that too many people with the power to help can write us off. “They’re resilient,” they say. “They’ll figure it out. They’ll be fine.”
Well, we’re not all “fine.” We needed help, and we deserved it.