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Iowa restaurants asking lawmakers for added COVID relief funding

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund ran out in a matter of weeks in 2021. About 2,600 Iowa restaurants qualified for funding, but only one-third received money.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — The Iowa Restaurant Association is calling on lawmakers in Congress to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

That fund ran out of money within weeks of opening for applications in 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many restaurants to adapt to new challenges. The Half Nelson restaurant in Davenport is used to navigating challenges, after opening in 2019 and weathering the historic flood.

Now, the downtown restaurant is looking for help again.

"That's very frustrating, both for us and a lot of businesses especially when you went through the process of doing the application," said Half Nelson owner Matthew Osborn.

Osborn applied for funding through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund in May 2021.

He owns three restaurants in the Quad Cities, two of which are in Davenport. Only one of his restaurants, Mo Brady's in Davenport, received any funding.

"The receival of this RRF money is kind of just like a sigh of relief in the same way that like the paycheck protection program was at the beginning of the pandemic," Osborn said.

That money helped Osborn cover payroll and work on a new siding project at the restaurant.

"The restaurant revitalization fund was such a fantastic hope for our industry," said Jessica Dunker, the Iowa Restaurant Association president.

Dunker said about 2,600 Iowa restaurants qualified for funding in 2021. Only about 850, or about a third of those that qualified, received any money from the fund.

"Everyone else that is waiting also qualified at varying levels, maybe even at greater need," Dunker said. "None of that was taken into consideration in funding."

That's why Dunker is joining restaurant owners, like Osborn, to call on lawmakers in Congress to replenish the fund with about $40 billion. 

That funding investment would cover the remaining restaurants that have qualified for funding but have not received anything, according to Dunker's staff.

"It’s like a hurricane disaster fund, right? You take care of the people who have been promised help," Dunker said.

Osborn called replenishing the fund a "life line" no matter the amount a restaurant receives.

Dunker said the Iowa Restaurant Association is working with national leaders on potential funding sources. She hopes those can be solidified in the next four to six weeks.

According to Dunker, this would be the fifth attempt to lobby Congress to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

Dunker and Osborn both believe the best way to impact local restaurants is to contact your representatives in Congress.

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