Cantwell Pushes for Answers from the Small Business Administration on for More Relief for Restaurants Relief Fund, Distilleries, Live Venues

More than 2,300 restaurants have closed in Washington state during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cantwell urges SBA Administrator to revise eligibility criteria to accommodate Washington state distilleries.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, at a Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship hearing, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) pressed the hearing witness, Honorable Isabel Guzman, Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), about the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which ran out of money on May 25. 

“We all are very concerned about the Restaurant Fund running out of money as of yesterday… If Congress would approve more funds, how long would it take to get assistance to those restaurants? And if they've already been in the application process, will they receive priority over people who hadn't already filled out paperwork?” Cantwell asked Guzman.

Guzman responded, “If we received more funding we would be able to leverage those applicants so that we could speedily get these funds out to those who applied.”

Cantwell also emphasized the need to include distilleries in future relief, highlighting the same issue she wrote about in a letter to Guzman last April in conjunction with other members of the Washington state delegation. Under the SBA current criteria, entities must have at least 33% of their revenue derived from on-site sales. Washington state law limits distilleries to gain no more than 30% of their revenue from on-site consumption.

“The entire Washington delegation sent you a letter about a technical barrier that prevented 120 Washington state distillers from accessing the Restaurant Revitalization Fund…Could the SBA address this problem, and could you revise the eligibility criteria to accommodate a limited number of distillers, such as those in Washington?” Cantwell asked.

“We spoke with stakeholders in order to understand what the marketplace needs were, and we would welcome guidance on that if any additional fund is created,” Guzman responded.

“What does guidance mean? I'm giving you guidance. I’m giving you the guidance that it would be great to solve this problem,” said Cantwell.

“If it could be addressed in statute that would be great,” said Guzman.

Senator Cantwell has been a strong advocate for getting COVID-19 assistance to restaurants and live venues. In March, she spoke on the Senate floor and urged her colleagues to pass the American Rescue Plan to get assistance out the door as quickly as possible. Cantwell fought for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program to be established in the December 2020 end-of-year COVID-19 emergency relief and continuing appropriations package and pushed for additional funding to be included in the American Rescue Plan Congress passed in March. Cantwell also held a virtual roundtable with representatives from venues around the State of Washington to talk about the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program before the SBA application went live.

In December, she spoke at a Commerce subcommittee hearing about the importance of delivering relief for live entertainment venues. She has also fought for funding for restaurants and live venues in other COVID-19 relief packages.

Video from Senator Cantwell’s Q&A with the witnesses is available HERE, audio is HERE, and a transcript is available HERE.