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Federal COVID grants for restaurants nearly gone, SBA says

"We do expect to be out of funds

"We do expect to be out of funds completely right now," said SBA administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman. Credit: Pool via AP / Tasos Katopodis

The amount of money requested from a federal grant program for restaurants, bars and caterers hit hard by the pandemic is more than double the available funding, President Joe Biden’s small business chief told Newsday.

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund, or RRF, has received applications for $65 billion nationwide since opening May 3. That's compared with the nearly $29 billion authorized by Congress and Biden in March.

"We do expect to be out of funds completely right now," said Isabella Casillas Guzman, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, in a Newsday interview on Friday. "The demand is, as expected by the [restaurant] industry, quite higher than the $28.6 billion" allocated for the RRF, she said.

The funding is divided into "buckets" to ensure that some businesses aren’t left out. The $500 million bucket to aid small restaurants, food trucks and small caterers with 2019 gross receipts of less than $50,000 has funding left, Guzman said. "But otherwise, funds are oversubscribed for sure."

She said SBA is keeping Congress informed about the RRF’s progress. Guzman noted that $2.7 billion has been distributed to 21,000 businesses across the country so far — all of them owned by women, veterans or members of minority groups, or are located in poor neighborhoods. Wider distribution begins May 24 and more than 265,000 applications have been received.

The RRF consists of grants of up to $10 million per business to make up for revenue losses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds may be used to pay employee wages, mortgage and rent payments, utility bills, outstanding debts and other operating expenses. The money must be used by March 11, 2023.

The RRF is the second coronavirus-relief program from SBA to run out of money this month.

The Paycheck Protection Program, which consists of federally guaranteed loans from banks and other private lenders to businesses and nonprofits, has exhausted its $291 billion in loan guarantees.

The PPP began a year ago and used up its initial guarantees in two weeks before Congress authorized more.

Guzman said on Friday the agency’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, or EIDL, and Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, or SVOG, both still have money.

More than 10,000 SVOG applications have been received since April 26, when SBA restarted the program after "an initial technology hiccup" closed the online application portal before forms could be accepted. "We are starting to process those grant applications," she said.

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