PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — With about four months left in the year, millions of dollars remain unused in the country’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF).

The RRF provides emergency assistance for eligible restaurants, bars, and other qualifying businesses impacted by the pandemic. As of June 2022, $180 million of RRF funding was unobligated, according

In an Aug. 11 letter, members of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation wrote to U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Isabella Guzman requesting that the SBA prioritize awarding unobligated RRF monies to applicants from states like Rhode Island “that received disproportionately low levels of awards relative to the number of applications in the state.”

“Even with some set aside for litigation or required to be sent to the Department of the Treasury, awards on that scale could make a transformative difference for the numerous restaurants still struggling with aftershocks from the pandemic’s economic crash,” the delegates wrote.

Only 30% of Rhode Island restaurants that applied for the RRF received relief, the lowest rate in the country and more than 10 percentage points lower than any other New England state, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) analysis of SBA data.

“We ask that SBA correct this concerning discrepancy by using unobligated RRF dollars
to prioritize awarding restaurants in states with the lowest percent of funded eligible applicants,” the letter stated.

“Such action would ensure program funds are distributed in a geographically equitable manner,
helping more restaurants in a greater amount of states,” the letter continued.

12 News reached out to the SBA for comment, but has not received a response.

Harrison Elkhay, president of Chow Fun Food Group, told 12 News he applied for money for his restaurants over a year ago, and there’s no indication if the applications will be approved. The fund was established in March 2021.

“We applied within five minutes of it being released,” Elkhay said, noting the wait has been frustrating.

Elkhay told 12 News his group’s restaurants are all still not back up to pre-pandemic levels of business.

“If these funds don’t get released, there’s a strong possibility that cuts are going to be made in other places which would really hurt to run on the economy and really hurt Rhode Islanders,” he added.

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The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) established the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) to provide money to help restaurants and other eligible businesses stay afloat. The grant money can be used for a variety of expenditures, including payroll costs, utility payments, construction of outdoor seating, and certain supplier costs.

The SBA notes that the program provides restaurants “with funding equal to their pandemic-related revenue loss up to $10 million per business and no more than $5 million per physical location.”

RRF recipients are not required to repay the funding, as long as funds are used for eligible uses no later than March 11, 2023, according to the SBA.

A total of 446 Rhode Island restaurant operators received more than $106 million in aid from the program, the delegation said.

In May, Senate Republicans blocked bipartisan legislation in that would have appropriated an additional $40 billion for the fund, which the delegation states would have been “enough to provide all RRF applicants that had not received any assistance with full grants.”

The bill failed to receive the necessary 60 votes after all but five Republicans voted against considering the measure.