House passes Morelle bill for restaurant relief fund; still needs Senate approval

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Just when they thought it was over, there’s another attempt to bring struggling restaurants back in.

Thursday, a bill re-introduced by Congressman Joe Morelle to replenish the COVID Restaurant Revitalization Fund passed in the House. The fund has been empty for a year. One month ago, the restaurant industry told me it was resigned to the fact that this idea was done when it was kept out of the federal infrastructure bill.

But there is some new life and a different way to get the money, which still needs Senate approval.

Here are a couple of historical points:

  • The Restaurant Revitalization Fund was part of the American Rescue Plan.
  • It got $28 billion.
  • That was depleted in three weeks.

In the past year, I’ve told you stories about local restaurants that got approved for money but never saw a dollar. The total claims from restaurants last year exceeded $72 billion.

This plan replenishes the fund with $42 billion and it uses money recovered from fraudulent PPP loans.

Morelle told Congress that 178,000 restaurants applied and qualified for money but never got it because the fund ran out.

"Let me say that again: 178,000 restaurants many of which are in danger of permanent closure if Congress does not provide them with the relief they need," Morelle said in Congress. "This bill would use funds unclaimed, reclaimed, seized or returned to the federal government from bad actors attempting to defraud previous recovery programs."

Morelle said the federal Small Business Administration has identified $78 billion in fraudulent loans and grants for COVID relief.

We’ve tracked this bill for months.

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Morelle was in Rochester Friday and met with restaurant owners who said the money they got saved their businesses.

"Eighty percent of independent businesses that did not receive restaurant revitalization funding reported that they are in danger of permanent closure," Morelle said.

When asked if there is anything restaurant owners can’t spend the money on, Morelle said it’s the same fund with the same rules. The money can be used to pay staff and bills or to build outdoor eating areas.

Any restaurant that got approved is still on the list.