AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Restaurant Association is calling on Congress to reopen the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, after the program ran out of money and left more than 12,000 Texan business owners without the help they need.

The TRA said the additional funding is needed now, as the third wave of COVID-19 cases has restaurants scaling back operations or even closing for days.

“We closed Bar Peached, my downtown location, last Tuesday’s service,” said owner Eric Silverstein, who added he’s either closed or limited capacity at the restaurant nearly all of last week, because he’s short-staffed.

“On Wednesday, I literally got off the plane, dropped my luggage off at my house, gave my kids a bath and then went into work, because I needed to work to be able to stay open that night,” Silverstein said.

At the same time, he said federal money from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund is helping at his other restaurant, The Peached Tortilla.

“That money helps now, because it gives us breathing room. We could pay people; we can retain our entire management team, which we brought back,” Silverstein explained.

He said both businesses were eligible for the RRF grant, but he got an email from the Small Business Administration, which oversees the program, at the end of June, saying they had run out of money for the program.

Eric Silverstein said he got this email from the SBA in June, alerting him the agency could not grant funding to all qualified applicants, because they had run out of money. (Courtesy Eric Silverstein)
Eric Silverstein said he got this email from the SBA in June, alerting him the agency could not grant funding to all qualified applicants, because they had run out of money. (Courtesy Eric Silverstein)

The TRA said Bar Peached is one of more than 12,000 other qualified Texas applicants that weren’t awarded RRF grants.

“These 12,000 restaurants that didn’t receive any funding were at all kinds of different stages in that approval process,” said Kelsey Erickson Streufert. “Some had been fully approved, some had been sort of initially approved pending, you know, review of backup information.”

Nearly 3,000 restaurant owners nationwide had their approvals rescinded due to a lawsuit against the SBA’s priority groups for the RRF.

One local restaurant owner who asked to remain anonymous told KXAN he was in one of those priority groups that had their application approved, then revoked, and received the below email explanation from the SBA.

“The bottom line is really less about who’s prioritized, who’s at the front line, who’s at the back of the line, and more about meeting the needs of everyone who was in the queue who was eligible … they should each get the funding that they were counting on,” Streufert said.

She said the program served as a lifeline for those who did get funding, and the omicron variant is highlighting the need for help, once again.

“If anything, it’s gotten worse because of the variant and its impact right around the holiday season. So, we’re excited that those conversations are picking up,” Streufert said.

She said they are currently working with lawmakers and hope to have more information in the next month or two about if and when the Restaurant Revitalization Fund could reopen.

“What we’re really telling to Congress and to the public right now is please don’t forget us,” she said.

Silverstein said Bar Peached got the RRF grant just days before the SBA announced it was out of money and said he knows others weren’t as lucky.

“I think the industry is about to change further, and I think a lot of people are probably at the end of the rope mentally,” he said.

In its email to Silverstein, the SBA said it is holding onto applications and will process them if Congress does appropriate more money for the program.

Silverstein said he supports the TRA’s call for more funding.

“It’s honestly like we’re reliving part of what made 2020 so difficult, and we’re reliving it in early 2022,” he said.