As Omicron struck the nation with its immense virality, the restaurant industry struggled to maintain its income. From new indoor capacities to service workers calling out of work at unprecedented rates, restaurants and their employees are losing money left and right. The National Restaurant Association is begging Congress to add more money to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund established last year.
In 2021, lawmakers introduced the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which included $28.6 billion for bars and restaurants in need. The fund was designed to reimburse the restaurant industry for their totaled pandemic losses, ranging from $5 million to $10 million based on how many locations each business had. All $28.6 billion of the initial bill has been distributed, which is why the National Restaurant Association is pushing Congress for another grant.
The Omicron surge has arguably hit the restaurant industry the hardest. The National Restaurant Association reported that 88% of restaurants saw a decline in indoor dining this winter due to rising Omicron cases. With conditions worsening and workers getting COVID at alarming rates, normalcy brought by mass vaccination many restaurants hoped for is nowhere to be found.
The restaurant industry’s employee loss from the early stages of the pandemic has also yet to be repaired. More than 650,000 restaurant jobs lost in 2022 have not been regained, leaving businesses scrambling for workers. A push for new funding from Congress could make up for this devastating loss.
The initial fund in 2021 did save thousands of jobs for the restaurant industry. The Congress grant reinstated 900,000 jobs, and 96% of restaurant owners said they could keep their doors open due to the funds. With Omicron threatening this accomplishment, the push for cash replenishments is needed more than ever. A new installment of restaurant grants could save an estimated 1.6 million American jobs.
Though the initial funds for the restaurant industry were massive, the $28 billion was not enough to cover every business. The National Restaurant Association’s vice president of public affairs stated that the money was only enough for one-third of the applicants. This deficit for restaurants established last year creates an even more need for money replenishment in 2022.
There’s good news surrounding Omicron’s domination for those involved in the restaurant industry. States around the country are seeing a plateau or decline in COVID cases. After an unparalleled escalation of COVID in late December and January, an inkling of Omicron receding could mean hope for struggling restaurants and bars. This week, COVID cases decreased by 15% nationally. Other states like New York saw cases go down by 47%, a sharp decline from the week prior.
This promising decline in Omicron may affect mask mandates meeting their deadline, a vital law that helped the restaurant industry stabilize. Governor of New York Kathy Hochul has already extended indoor masking policies through February 15th and reminded her constituents that the state of emergency is still in effect. With less progressive governors, mask mandates might begin to fizzle out, even when Omicron’s infectiousness remains incredibly high.
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