Illinois restaurants can now apply for revitalization fund grants

Illinois restaurants and bars reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic are getting more relief. Affected businesses can now apply for Restaurant Revitalization Fund grants from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The $28.6 billion federal program provides restaurants, bars, caterers and other eligible establishments grants equal to their pandemic-related revenue losses.

It is similar to the Paycheck Protection Program in some ways, as loans are forgivable. The PPP was broader while the Revitalization Fund is designed to help restaurants and bars with COVID-related expenses.

Unlike the Paycheck Protection Program, which required businesses to spend the loan within 24 weeks, businesses have two years to use funds they get under the Restaurant Revitalization Fund program.

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund will have an immediate impact on Illinois’ hardest hit restaurants and bars and will help boost the recovery of our local economies,” said Sam Toia, president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association.

Toia notes that the fund is aimed at helping smaller, independent businesses that own 20 or fewer locations and not intended for national chain operations.

The industry has been hit particularly hard during the past year. Between February 2020 and March 2021, Illinois lost nearly 103,000 eating and drinking place jobs. And the recovery has been slow. Eighty percent of Illinois restaurant operators say total sales volume in March 2021 was lower than it would normally be in the absence of COVID-19.

For the first three weeks of the program, the SBA is only processing applications from women, veterans, and socially and economically disadvantaged people.

Toia said he doesn’t believe the fund will last very long, and has asked lawmakers to be prepared to replenish the funds.

“Independent restaurants are important to all our cities and towns throughout the country because restaurants are the soul of every neighborhood, so we definitely are feeling that this could go very fast,” Toia said.