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WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden ordered tacos and enchiladas at Mexican restaurant on Wednesday while calling attention to a new $28.6 billion government program that offers grants to eateries slammed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden paid a Cinco de Mayo visit to Taqueria Las Gemelas, a restaurant in northeast Washington that was one of the first to receive funding under the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. Biden chatted with the restaurant staff and ordered food to go.
The restaurant, owned in part by Mexican immigrants Yesenia Neri Diaz and Rogelio Martinez, saw its staff shrink from 55 employees to seven during the coronavirus pandemic. The emergency funding will allow the owners to complete delayed projects and provide raises to their staff, the White House said.
"The restaurant industry was so badly hurt nationwide, and that's why we put this restaurant revitalization fund back together," Biden said.
Later, in remarks at the White House, Biden said that while the U.S. is clearly recovering from the pandemic, some sectors of the economy, such as the restaurant business, are still suffering.
"Restaurants are more than a major driver of our economy," he said. "They're woven into the fabric of our communities. And so for many families, restaurants are the gateway to opportunity, a key part of the American story. There are families of all races, all ethnic backgrounds all nationalities in this country who built their American Dream around a family-owned restaurant."
The Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which started accepting applications Monday, was part of Biden’s American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion package that provides relief to Americans and businesses still suffering financially from the pandemic. Biden signed the bill into law in March.
Under the program, restaurants, bars, food trucks and other food and drink establishments are eligible for grants up to $10 million per business and $5 million per location. The money can be used for eligible expenses, such as payroll, rent and supplies, and does not have to be repaid as long as it’s used no later than March 11, 2023.
The law set aside $9.5 billion for the smallest bars and restaurants. Small businesses owned by women, veterans and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals will be given priority for review and funding during the first 21 days of the program. Afterward, applications will be funded on a first-come, first-served basis.
Restaurants and bars have been particularly hard by the pandemic. Roughly 6 million workers at restaurants, bars and other eating and drinking establishments – nearly half of their employees – lost or left their jobs between February and April 2020. Employment rebounded as pandemic-related shutdowns and other restrictions eased, but the industry was still down 2.3 million jobs at the end of 2020.
While the actual number of restaurants and bars permanently lost during the pandemic may not be known for some time, research suggests that more than 400,000 small businesses across industries have permanently closed and millions more are struggling to make ends meet, the White House said.
In the first two days of the new program, 186,200 restaurants, bars and other eligible businesses in all 50 states and the District of Columbia applied for relief. Some 46,400 applications came from businesses owned and controlled by women, while 4,200 were owned by veterans and 30,800 by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
About 61,700 came from businesses with under $500,000 in annual revenue before the pandemic, representing some of the smallest restaurants and bars in the country.
Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden visits Mexican restaurant to draw attention to COVID relief fund