In the 20 months since the coronavirus pandemic took root in the United States, the federal government has spent trillions keeping the economy afloat.
One small corner of that spending was the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which pumped nearly $30 billion into restaurants and other hospitality businesses around the country.
That’s a lot of money, but a fraction of the damage caused to the restaurant industry by government shutdown orders and restrictions on seating capacity. Few industries suffered more, and some that did, like air travel, have been better compensated.
Here in Louisiana, where our unique cuisine is arguably our biggest tourist draw, the recovery funds covered only about a third of the restaurants that applied. Nearly 3,000 were left in the cold.
And while COVID-19 infections are low in Louisiana and tourism is slowly reviving, these are still challenging times for restaurants. Many were forced to close down and their workforces dispersed. It would be challenging to reopen a business and recreate your workforce, but many restaurants that did found themselves competing with their own government, which was paying people not to work even while businesses were desperate to hire.
Now there is a measure in Congress to rebuild the fund with an infusion of $60 billion. Of Louisiana's U.S. senators, Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge has signed on, but John N. Kennedy of Madisonville has not.
That in a state where the official tourism slogan is "Feed Your Soul."
The measure faces a headwinds because the excessive government spending and deficits — starting under Donald Trump but accelerating under Joe Biden — has helped push inflation to levels not seen in a generation.
There are good reasons for caution about new government spending. But aid that is targeted to the most damaged sectors of the economy still makes sense.
Restaurants are still closing, and the lasting damage to the economy may be worse than the modest increase in government spending.