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Washington restaurateurs make pitch for another round of federal funding

Funding from a $29 billion program dried up quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic as businesses struggled to stay open

SEATTLE — Several Washington state restaurant owners made a pitch Tuesday that there should be another round of revitalization grants, after the original package left out hundreds of businesses. 

Washington Senator Maria Cantwell led a roundtable of restauranteurs as a way to garner support for additional funding in upcoming budget bills.

A $29 billion program, which was part of the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act, dried up quickly. 

The American Rescue Plan, passed in March 2021, also allowed most Americans to receive a direct payment of up to $1,400 each plus $1,400 for their dependents. It also increased the annual child tax credit to $3,600 for children under age 6 and $3,000 for kids age 6-17. The child tax credit was also made available as an advance via monthly payments. 

"Sometimes, reality catches up with you and the bills pile up," said Oliver Bangera, owner of Nirmal's in Pioneer Square. Bangera participated in Cantwell's forum. 

He would often have a busy lunch crowd, with neighboring office space filled up before the pandemic. But now, as the COVID-19 omicron rages and supply chains are disrupted, when combined with higher food costs, it had made the price of operating even tougher.  

"Our business is down at least 40% in the last couple of months in a business that has 4 or 5% margin," Bangera said. 

Per Cantwell's office, 7,236 restaurants submitted relief grant applications and 3,247 of them received funding before it ran out of money in May 2021. Cantwell's office says more than 2,300 restaurants throughout the State of Washington closed during the first year of the pandemic. 

"It's not just us, the owners, it's the employees. I have twenty-two employees, they have bills to pay. It's the landlord who has a mortgage to pay. It's the vendor who supplies the linen," said Bangera. "It's their livelihood too."