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1,500 RI businesses left out of Restaurant Revitalization Fund

Target 12

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) – Eddie Azevedo said his wife’s diner – which he manages – was one of the hundreds of restaurants left out of critical federal aid that he said would have helped retain employees.

“You have so many businesses that received nothing, and so few that received all that money,” Azevedo said. “How do you explain that?”

Ultimately, Azevedo said they had to part ways with five workers as money got tight, leaving he and his wife to do all the work.

“I’m a cook, dishwasher, bus boy, phone boy,” he said. “My wife is handling every customer that walks through this place.”

More than 440 Rhode Island businesses received about $106 million in grants through the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund, but 1,527 businesses that applied received nothing.

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The program was created as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, which President Biden signed in March.

In Rhode Island, approved grants ranged from a low of $1,594 for Kellie’s Cafe LLC in Newport, to a high of nearly $3 million for Wright’s Farm Corp. in Burrillville. Recipients included restaurants, bars, lounges, strip clubs, and businesses with entertainment licenses.

Some businesses were told they were qualified to receive funds, like Eddie’s Diner which Azevedo said was approved to receive nearly $32,000 in relief.

Then the well ran dry.

“We get an email stating the money’s been depleted,” Azevedo said. “Then I find out that there are businesses in Rhode Island, restaurants — and some which are not restaurants — that received well over a million dollars.”

“This was a revitalization program,” he added. “Not a sweepstakes, not a lottery. And some businesses in Rhode Island hit the lottery.”

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Azevedo called on Rhode Island’s federal delegation to help out the businesses that applied and received nothing.

“Jack Reed, Sheldon Whitehouse: this is why you get paid,” he said. “We need you now. We need you more than ever. Get in there, get the ball rolling, and get money to these businesses.”

Target 12 took Azevedo’s question to Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed.

“He’s right,” Whitehouse said. “We’re on it. You know, these businesses really went through a lot in COVID.”

Reed added he “was one of the original cosponsors of the Restaurant Relief Fund, which was the basis of the program we passed.”

“I think the challenge now is to see if we can generate additional funds,” said Reed.

The senators argued that if legislative directives were followed, women, veteran and minority-owned businesses would have received more money. Instead, they said businesses that stretch the definition of restaurants — like strip clubs — received millions of dollars because Republican litigation stopped those groups from getting priority funding.

Still, both senators remain optimistic that more money is on the way.

While the original fund was roughly $28 billion nationally, Whitehouse pointed to bipartisan legislation — dubbed the Restaurant Revitalization Fund Replenishment Act of 2021 — that’s currently in the works, which would offer another $60 billion for restaurants across the country.

“There’s a very strong chance of getting this to be something that we can pass,” Whitehouse told Target 12.

Nearly $50 billion dollars in requests from restaurants across the country went unfulfilled in the initial round of funding.

Tolly Taylor (ttaylor@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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