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Restaurant closures could spike without federal aid, industry group warns

Many more US restaurants could close permanently if Congress does not pass additional federal relief measures during the Omicron surge, industry officials warned this week. The National Restaurant Association outlined the dilemma in a letter urging Congressional leaders to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which provided $29 billion in grant money to bars and eateries impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. “After two years of closures, COVID-19 variants, worker shortages, and inflationary pressure, a dangerous number of restaurants are at the end of the line,” the National Restaurant Association wrote. “The RRF was a critical lifeline to many, but far more remain on the sidelines, desperately looking for support amid continued economic uncertainty.” “The decisions you make in the coming weeks will be critical to the future of the nation’s restaurant industry,” the letter added. As Omicron prompts a record surge in COVID-19 cases, the 177,000 eligible restaurants that applied for relief but did not receive grants are under renewed pressure. Nearly 50 percent of restauranteurs in that category say they must be forced to shut down for good without federal relief in the near future, according to a survey conducted by the trade group. A new wave of federal grants through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund “will save more than 1.6 million restaurant jobs,” according to the National Restaurant Association. The survey found 96 percent of restauranteurs who received grants in the initial round felt the money increased their odds of staying in business. The highly contagious Omicron variant added another challenge for restaurants and other small businesses that were already contending with supply chain disruptions and a labor shortage that has contributed to decades-high inflation. According to the survey, 88 percent of restaurants have experienced a downturn in demand for indoor dining since the Omicron variant emerged, while 74 percent said their businesses are still less profitable than they were prior to the pandemic. The poll’s results were based on a survey of 4,200 US restaurant owners from Jan. 6 to Jan. 18, according to the National Restaurant Association.

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