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WNY restaurant owners, group call on Congress for help

Western New York restaurant owners voiced concerns of losing outdoor dining options as winter weather approaches.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — As outdoor dining ends and winter weather rolls in, local restaurant owners an the New York State Restaurant Association (NYSRA) are asking for the continuation of COVID-related restaurant aid.

On Thursday, Western New York restaurant owners, along with Capital Region restaurant owners and the NYSRA, got together to ask the federal government to continue the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF). The continuation of the program would help restaurants offset the challenges they would face as outdoor dining options are eliminated because of weather, according to NYSRA and restaurant owners. 

The restaurant owners state they still face challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. A NYSRA survey found that 85% of restaurant have seen a reduction in indoor dining since cases have started to rise. Outdoor dining has expanded their options, but it will no longer be possible for some businesses with the cold and snow on the way. 

In New York State, most restaurants that applied for RRF aid did not receive any; of those that applied 35% got aid. A total of $9.6 billion was requested by restaurants who applied; a total of $5.9 billion in aid was not received. 

“The RRF program was deemed necessary in assisting the relief of many struggling restaurants at the height of the pandemic, but this aid is still desperately needed today. The replenishment of the RRF will provide additional resources for struggling restaurants to see another day and help make up for revenue lost because outdoor dining is no longer a viable option. Many in the industry have benefited from the RRF program, and many more deserve the same relief,” said Melissa Fleischut, President and CEO of New York State Restaurant Association.

U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins voiced his support of Western New York restaurant owners' request. 

“I rise to add my voice and support to restaurant owners in Buffalo and Western New York, standing up today to call on Congress to approve additional restaurant relief. Congress authorized, through the American Rescue Plan, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund providing $28.6 billion to help restaurants hit hard by the pandemic. While the program was able to help over 101,000 small business owners, over 63% of eligible applicants -- more than 177,000 restaurants the Small Business Administration deemed qualified for funding -- received nothing," Higgins said. 

"Restaurants support jobs, fuel our local economies, and as gathering places for families and friends, help to build back stronger communities. I stand in strong support of swift replenishment of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.”

Higgins is a co-sponsor of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act that would provide $60 billion in funding nationwide. With the first RRF, $28.6 billion was provided and more than $76 billion was requested, according to a Congressional Research Service report.