US restaurants cheer relief in $1.9 trillion Biden package
New York City Restaurant (AFP)

The beaten-down US restaurant industry is applauding the $28.6 billion in aid targeted at eateries in the massive economic rescue bill that President Joe Biden signed into law Thursday.

The $1.9 trillion package establishes the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a program the industry pushed for last year in the wake of a calamitous drop in revenues during the coronavirus pandemic.

"The creation of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund will be a catalyst to reviving restaurants and saving jobs across the country," Tom Bene, president of the National Restaurant Association, said in a statement.

The fund provides a lifeline to one of the industries hardest hit by the pandemic shutdowns and restrictions. Foodservice sales have fallen by $255 billion and 110,000 restaurants have closed, the restaurant association said.

Hundreds of thousands of restaurants garnered federal support from prior US relief packages through the Paycheck Protection Program, which provided forgivable loans to cover employee pay, rent and some other expenses.

But restaurants had been pushing for a dedicated support program given the bruising impact of Covid-19 on the industry, which caused many to take on huge debts to survive.

With the new fund, businesses can apply for a grant equivalent to the annual revenue loss from 2019 and 2020. Eligible expenses include payroll, rent, debt obligations to suppliers, protective equipment and outdoor seating construction.

Chefs with the Independent Restaurant Coalition, which was formed in March 2020 as the Covid-19 crisis slammed the industry, also cheered the bill.

"This is more than a rescue plan. It is more than a relief package, it is literally a stimulus package that will really have an effect on the entire country's economy," said Los Angeles restauranteur Caroline Styne.

"This package will be the vehicle for so many small businesses, bars, and restaurants to survive: everywhere from down south in San Diego, to San Francisco, to Sacramento, and everywhere in between. It will help those who have been unemployed for almost a year now back to their jobs."