Biden touts restaurant relief while interrupting D.C. spot's lunch rush

(AP Photo/Courtesy Tim Fernandes-Parsons)

Joe Biden visited a D.C. restaurant today that just so happened to be partially owned by Mexican immigrants. It was his first visit to a local restaurant since he moved into the White House. Today is Cinco de Mayo but I’m sure this is just a coincidence.

It’s all a little too on-the-nose. Biden visited Taqueria Las Gemelas in Northeast D.C. at Union Market just before noon. That means he stopped in to pat himself on the back for legislation that provided funds for restaurants while actually getting in the way of the lunch hour rush. He can’t come to the southern border because it may disrupt the work of local law enforcement but he can go to a restaurant during the lunch rush and disrupt the restaurant in order to grab attention. In other words, the disruption of a presidential visit is ok if it suits Biden’s purposes. He did it at the time of day when the largest amount of people would notice.

He came to highlight the restaurant relief program included in the American Rescue Plan. He left with two bags of tacos and enchiladas.

The restaurant is partially owned by Mexican immigrants Yesenia Neri Diaz and Rogelio Martinez, according to the White House, and is receiving funds from the newly established Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The concept belongs to the restaurant group Destination Unknown Restaurants, which is also behind D.C. hot spot Espita.

The American Rescue Plan established the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund to provide debt-free support for restaurants, bars, food trucks and other establishments, as well as cover eligible expenses such as payroll, mortgage, rent and utilities.

The Small Business Administration portal to receive applications opened on Monday. In the first two days, 186,200 establishments applied for relief and 61,700 applications came from small businesses with under $500,000 in annual pre-pandemic revenue, according to the White House. Women-owned establishments made up 97,600 of the applications. Initial awards through the program are expected to start going out on Friday.

It sounds as though the restaurant is a part of a larger corporate group. Couldn’t Biden find a local mom-and-pop place to give some publicity? That could have been a more compelling story. Taqueria Las Gemelas received funding through Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that allowed business owners to rehire employees who were laid off due to the pandemic lockdowns. The program began under President Trump and Biden continued it.

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund is a bipartisan piece of legislation that was first introduced in June (also when Trump was in office). It was part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill. Though Senator Wicker and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, both Republicans, worked with Senator Sinema and Rep. Blumenauer, Democrats, to introduce the fund, the American Rescue Act was rammed through on a party-line vote using budget reconciliation.

Taqueria Las Gemelas had to cut its staffing to 7 from 55 during the pandemic. The restaurant industry took a huge hit due to lockdowns. This restaurant was able to rehire employees and provide back pay with the Paycheck Protection Program. Today the White House said that “186,200 restaurants, bars, and other eligible businesses had already applied for the grants from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and five U.S. territories.”

As lockdowns fade and restrictions loosen, more businesses will begin to come back and people can get back to work. That’s good news. The Small Business Administration will continue to dispense money until it runs out. Moving to the front of the line are the favored demographics of Team Biden, always looking ahead to the next election cycle. Too cynical? Nah.

The Small Business Administration began accepting grant applications on Monday and will continue until the money is fully spent. For the first three weeks, preference will be given to applicants that are majority owned by women, veterans or “disadvantaged” individuals.

The SBA is already worried about the money running out too quickly. That’s the problem with other people’s money – eventually, it runs out. Under Biden’s plan, grants will be issued to qualifying restaurants and bars that equal their pandemic-related revenue losses. There is a $10M cap per business and $5M per location. That’s a lot of tacos.