Walk down the streets in Bushwick, you’ll find food as diverse as the over 100,000 New Yorkers who call this area home. Within blocks your choices range from Mexican, Caribbean, Thai, Venezuelan, Italian, Chinese – the list goes on. Like so many New Yorkers and visitors, I have had the pleasure of exploring the many brick-and-mortar small businesses that make this community so vibrant. Just a few weeks ago, I stood outside of the newly opened Tikal Café on the corner of Decatur and Knickerbocker, as Carolina Hernandez joined friends and neighbors to celebrate the fruition of her dream of starting her own business. Like so many, Carolina had struggled during the pandemic. She had lost her employment and decided it was time to finally take the plunge and open a restaurant of her own. 

Had Carolina been operating Tikal Café at the height of the pandemic, things would have likely looked different. As the world began to shut down in the early spring of 2020 and ambulances screeched through our city’s streets, countless restaurant owners were forced to scramble. Many rushed to move sales online, to set up makeshift “to-go” counters, and to provide employees with masks, hand sanitizer, and other protective gear. Meanwhile, Congress acted to extend disaster assistance to businesses hurt by the pandemic and created the new Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to provide quick and immediate relief. And while the program wasn’t perfect, it sent forgivable loans to over half of all small businesses with under ten employees in New York City, including restaurants. 

“We know that restaurants here in Bushwick, throughout New York City, and across the country were able to get funding,” writes Representative Velázquez, seen here at the opening of the Tikal Café on the corner of Decatur and Knickerbocker.

What no one had anticipated was that one year later, because of the abysmal and tragic failures of the Trump Administration, America would not yet be fully reopen for business. More relief was critical. And this time, small businesses were especially wary of taking on new loans and needed more flexibility than PPP offered. That’s why as Chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee, I fought hard to create a new grant program which became the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) and dedicated $28.6 billion in direct cash infusions to small and independent restaurants. And knowing just how challenging the realities of this pandemic have been for communities of color and other historically marginalized groups, we made sure the RRF would prioritize these businesses through a special application window. 

The demand was overwhelming–in less than two weeks after its launch, the program received over 266,000 applications, representing more than $70 billion in requested funds, with nearly half of those applications coming from women, veteran, and socially and economically disadvantaged businesses. We know that restaurants here in Bushwick, throughout New York City, and across the country were able to get funding.

However, the need for restaurant relief is higher than the original supply of funding, and it’s clear the federal government needs to act once again. I’m calling on my colleagues in Congress, Republican and Democrat, to join me in passing a bill to replenish the program without further delay. It’s time to heal from the wounds inflicted by the pandemic, and restaurants nourish our communities. Our neighborhoods and our economy would be sorely at a loss without them.

Nydia Velázquez represents New York’s 7th congressional district, which includes Bushwick, as well as Ridgewood, Maspeth, Williamsburg as well as parts of the Lower East Side and the East Village.

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Photos courtesy of Congresswoman Velázquez’s office.

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