WASHINGTON (CN) — Whetting the public's appetite for his approach to rebuilding the U.S. economy — two huge new spending bills worth nearly $4 trillion — President Joe Biden touted the start of a new restaurant relief initiative in time for Cinco de Mayo.
The restaurant industry has taken a molly-whopping since the pandemic began, with over 2 million restaurant-based jobs drying up in 2020. Through Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which passed in March, a pool of some $28.6 billion was carved out just for restaurant relief.
The fund opened Monday for the first time, and, by Wednesday, it has seen applications from more than 180,000 U.S. restaurants, bars and food truck-based businesses. About 46,000 of these businesses are owned by women, the White House notes, and nearly 31,000 are owned by those living and working in underrepresented communities.
“One of my goals with the American Rescue Plan was to get these benefits out quickly and directly to the American people,” Biden said Wednesday in an address from the State Dining Room at the White House.
With some 163 million rescue payments already delivered and 220 million Americans now vaccinated, Biden credited his plan as having “provided checks in pockets and shots in arms."
The White House reported just before Biden’s remarks that the bulk of those applying to the new restaurant fund are small business: More than 60,000 of the applications came from operations that earned less than $500,000 a year.
These applicants, along with veterans, will see their forms reviewed on priority. The fund is also open to U.S. territories and businesses in Washington, D.C.
“Some people said it wasn’t needed. This response proves them wrong. It’s badly needed,” Biden said.
Bakeries, caterers and other restaurant-industry establishments can use the grants to cover payroll, rent, utilities and supplies.
“Anything they need to stay open,” Biden said. “We are opening the doors of this program so that restaurants all over the country can open their doors again.”
The fund will cap aid to restaurants up to $10 million, and any assistance received would need to align with losses accrued during the pandemic.
Funds also won’t have to be repaid — if they are applicable to business expenses — before March 2023. And as far as the nation’s smallest restaurants, bars and food trucks go, any outfit that makes less than $50,000 will have access to a $9.5 billion fund specifically set aside from the greater $28 billion pool for their applications.
Biden’s speech on Wednesday came on the heels of his first trip to a local restaurant since taking the White House in January. Visiting Taqueria Las Gemelas in downtown Washington, the president met the owners of the restaurant who were among the first participants in the restaurant revitalization fund’s pilot program.
Like many small business stories written across America during the pandemic, the owners of Taqueria Las Gemelas went from having a full staff of 55 to just seven after Covid-19 swept ashore.
With his visit falling on Cinco de Mayo, Biden said the holiday should serve as a reminder of the “resiliency and ingenuity of the Mexican-American community in difficult times.”
The Department of Labor has counted some 2,700 closures among restaurants or food and drink establishments during the pandemic. Over the last three months, the Small Business Administration has already delivered more than $31 billion in forgivable loans to restaurants and bars. Businesses interested in applying for the new grant money can do so online at www.sba.gov/restaurants.
These funds all come from packages that Congress has already appropriated. Meanwhile the president faces long odds in pulling off a deal for his $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal — or the separate $1.8 trillion child care and education package — anywhere near his asking price.
To pay for these proposals, Biden has called for raising the top income tax rate to 39.6% and raising the corporate tax rate to 28%. These would be major reversals on a 2017 tax law passed under the Trump administration. Slashing tax rates for big business was a crowning jewel of the Trump presidency and an accomplishment much lauded by the former leader of the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell.
On Wednesday, the Kentucky Republican — now the Senate minority leader after Democrats took the both legislative bodies in the 2020 election — did not hesitate when forecasting what lies ahead between the Biden White House and Republican lawmakers who oppose his policies.
“One hundred percent of my focus is stopping this new administration,” McConnell said. “One hundred percent of my focus is on standing up to this administration.”
The president appeared undeterred — if not slightly disappointed — when reporters brought McConnell’s statement to his attention during a brief scrum in the State Dining Room.
“I’ve heard him say this in the past and we were able to get work done with him,” Biden said.
McConnell made the proclamation earlier Wednesday as he took questions from reporters regarding an ongoing mutiny inside House Republican leadership.
Liz Cheney, the Republican representative for Wyoming, has been in hot water with others in her party since she openly called out Trump’s lies about the 2020 election, namely his false assertion that he won it.
Pressure has been steadily building from within the GOP for months. On the set of "Fox and Friends" just 24 hours ago, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California was caught by a hot mic proclaiming that he “had it with her” and his confidence in her was “lost.”
The second-most powerful Republican in the House of Representatives, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, called explicitly Wednesday for Cheney to be replaced as the party's third-highest-ranking member. Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York — who has been unabashedly pro-Trump since his first impeachment — has been floated as a candidate to replace her.
Biden spoke about the conflagration Wednesday. “I’ve been a Democrat for a long time, and we have had our internal fights and disagreements," he said. "I don’t remember any like this. Republicans are further away from figuring out who they are and what they stand for than I thought at this point.”
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