Patrons sit in an outdoor dining area at Kalaveras Restaurant in San Pedro, California in January 2021. The National Restaurant Association sent a letter to Congress on Monday asking for more pandemic relief after 88% of restaurants suffered a decline in customers because of the Omicron variant. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 24 (UPI) -- The National Restaurant Association sent a letter to Congress on Monday asking for more pandemic relief after 88% of restaurants suffered a decline in customers because of the Omicron variant.
The industry group, which represents more than 380,000 restaurant locations nationwide, asked lawmakers to add to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund -- which was established as part of the American Rescue Plan Act last year.
The Restaurant Revitalization Fund had provided about $28.6 billion to help restaurants struggling because of COVID-19 restrictions and fewer diners -- but was distributed by the Small Business Administration within just a few weeks after applications for the grants opened.
"Two years into the pandemic, restaurants are still struggling to keep their doors open amid a surge in coronavirus cases, inflation, a labor shortage, and supply chain delays," the letter reads. "Congress must act now to replenish the RRF in the upcoming legislative package to fund the government."
The National Restaurant Association said 177,000 eligible restaurants applied for RRF grants but did not receive them -- half of which said their restaurant would not be able to stay open without a grant, according to the industry group's latest COVID-19 survey.
"Alarmingly, the industry still hasn't recreated the more than 650,000 jobs lost early in the pandemic, a loss 45% more than the next closest industry," the letter reads.
The data shows that 76% of restaurant operators reported that business conditions are worse now than three months ago, while 74% said their restaurant is less profitable now than it was before the pandemic.
The industry group said that "forced to adapt to deteriorating consumer confidence, restaurants reduced hours/days of operation, cut seating capacity, and shut down, pivoting to off-premises dining."
The letter was sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.