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Small businesses impacted by pandemic hoping to get relief through federal program

If passed, the Restaurants Act would establish $120 billion in relief for small businesses in the food and beverage industry.

BOISE, Idaho — Restaurants are on track to lose $240 billion in sales this year, according to the National Restaurant Association. 

For many small business owners in Idaho, that figure isn't just a number, it's their bottom line. This grim reality is the reason a local non-profit is trying to spread awareness about a new bill in the works in Washington, D.C. 

The Federal Restaurants Act, first introduced in June, would establish $120 billion in relief for small businesses in the food and beverage industry. As of Wednesday, more than 200 bipartisan lawmakers have signed on to support it.

Dave Krick is the managing partner for Bittercreeek, Red Feather and Diablo restaurants in Boise. If businesses like his don't see additional financial help soon, a lot of them could fail. 

“No industry has suffered more than the restaurant and bar industry during this pandemic," Krick said. "We are in the direct front line with this pandemic."

Fare Idaho, a non-profit trade association that represents small food and beverage providers throughout the state of Idaho, is represented by local restaurant associates. Krick is Fare Idaho's board president.

“The Restaurants Act is really simple: it's a $120 billion grant program for people in the retail food and beverage, independent restaurants, bars and other establishments that serve food and beverage,” Krick said.

Right now, the bill has gained a lot of support, but it still needs more in order to pass through Congress. Fare Idaho's executive director Katie Baker said the way to gain support is to contact Idaho’s congressional leaders, and soon.

“There's a lot of concern about what’s going to happen this winter,” Baker said. "Everybody says small businesses matter, small independent businesses are the heartbeat of our community and I think now is the time we can give it more than lip service and we can actually help those industries."

This bill would help more than just restaurants, according to Baker. This act is about Idaho farmers, ranchers and all other restaurant workers.

With the stock market up and the real estate industry booming, many may not realize how much the restaurant industry is still struggling. 

“Our business models are built around social gathering,” Krick said. “If we're going to survive we're going to need investment in our business.”

The Restaurant Act is a much more flexible program than the Paycheck Protection Program. Many small businesses were not able to take advantage of the PPP because it was geared more toward keeping employees on the payroll. This proposal would allow small businesses to put funds toward additional expenses like rent, food costs and benefits. 

None of Idaho's four congressional delegates are co-sponsors of the bill. Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo were the only ones to respond to our questions about this act. Both said they're open to more assistance. 

However, Risch said he prefers “extending comprehensive assistance to all businesses impacted by this pandemic and will keep fighting to help Idaho's small businesses in every sector get the assistance they need."

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