Senate votes against additional pandemic relief funds for restaurants

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A proposal to provide more pandemic relief to restaurants is now dead. In a 52 to 43 vote Thursday, the U.S. Senate voted "no" to funding the depleted Restaurant Revitalization Fund, despite the House passing the bill last month.

Gregory Leon, head chef and owner of Amilinda in downtown Milwaukee, says the decision is disappointing.

He's been part of efforts to get these funds to the restaurant that need it, including his own.

Chef Leon says restaurants took a huge blow during the pandemic. Expenses stayed the same while money coming in significantly dropped. Many restaurants have not returned to pre-pandemic operations.

"With the surge in COVID cases right now, people are a little hesitant. we have seen an uptick in cancellations and no shows," said Chef Leon.

A bill to replenish a federal grant program could have provided much-needed relief.

"Unfortunately, every single republican including our own Ron Johnson voted it down," said Leon. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D), voted in favor.

Leon says in the past, he has invited Sen. Johnson to visit his restaurant to help explain why this bill was so important but those efforts fell short.

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund was established early in the pandemic, but the money ran out in just three weeks. Thousands who were eligible didn't get help.

"We're not talking about money that's going directly into the pocket of the owner. This is money restaurants need to cover and take care of a lot of the expenses that still came their way while they were shut down or pivoted to to-go," said Leon.

He says this will cause a trick-down effect and ultimately hurt small businesses in local communities. "We're not talking about big chains. We're talking about small independently owned restaurants that are the heartbeat of the community," he said.

"This is funding that we don't receive then we can't continue to buy from local farmers...our staff gets paid less," Chef Leon explained.

While he says Amilinda will make it through, many restaurants will not.

"I have heard from at least 15 other restaurant owners around the country that they have now started the process of shutting down," said Leon.

The National Restaurant Association is calling the Senate vote "a devastating blow to the restaurant industry and small business operators around the country."

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