16 April 2022
Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips saw some of his push for small-business relief realized when the House signed off on a bill with billions of dollars in aid for restaurants, gyms and others that depend on public gatherings and are reeling from the pandemic.
The legislation passed the chamber on a 223-203 vote this month. Four Democrats opposed the bill, but six Republicans voted for it, adding some bipartisanship to the push.
“We’re almost through COVID, God willing,” Phillips, a Democrat, said in an interview. “We’re on the one yard line and if we can just fulfill this final promise, I think we will have kept thousands and thousands and thousands of small businesses afloat during one of the most challenging times in American history.”
If the $55 billion bill clears the Senate in its current form, $42 billion would go toward refilling the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and $13 billion would fund a new program for hard-hit industries. Phillips said 177,000 restaurants have been waiting for help because the restaurant fund contained in the 2021 pandemic relief package was underfunded.
Minnesota’s four House Democrats voted for the bill, including Rep. Ilhan Omar. “Restaurants in Minnesota are still struggling to recover from the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic crisis,” Omar said in a statement, adding that she “was proud to support this bill to get additional relief to restaurants in Minnesota.”
The state’s three congressional Republicans voted against the legislation.
“Structurally, this bill is not going to work,” GOP Rep. Michelle Fischbach said during a floor speech. “There is a lot of money, and it seems the Democrats just want to throw it into the wind because when you look at how the funds are being distributed, this bill will not fix the problem.”
In a statement, Republican Rep. Pete Stauber charged that “hundreds of billions of dollars from previous COVID bills remain unspent.”
“This unspent money should be used for restaurant relief instead of the bill passed last week that adds to the national debt and increases inflation which is already crushing American families,” Stauber said.
Minnesota state and local governments haven’t yet spent all the pandemic stimulus money from the American Rescue Plan, and cities, towns and counties have until the end of 2026 to do so.
Phillips pointed to his own business background as giving him an understanding about how difficult managing a small business can be “even in the best of times.” The legislation aims to offset some of the cost through money recovered from fraud in programs that include the Paycheck Protection Program.
“If we do not come through … 90,000 restaurants closed during COVID, not only will more close, but those dreams will fade with it and the jobs that were created by those businesses will also disappear,” Phillips said.