Karen Lin, Staff Photographer

Help could be on the way for struggling New Haven restaurants and entertainment venues. The recently passed American Rescue Plan Act, or ARP, which was signed into federal law on March 11, could bring at least $94 million in federal funding to the Elm City.

Overall, ARP is a $1.9 trillion stimulus package, building on the March 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act and the December 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act. The plan includes one-time $1,400 checks for single tax filers and emergency funding to state and local governments, among other provisions. Business leaders in New Haven are optimistic that ARP will affect the city by providing aid to restaurants and entertainment venues. 

“This stimulus plan is much broader in scope than the December stimulus plan,” said Garrett Sheehan, the president and CEO of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce. “[It] has bigger impacts for vaccine rollout, and state and local governments and even programs that go beyond COVID relief.”

The plan establishes a $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund which aims to address the financial losses suffered by restaurants nationwide due to the pandemic. The program, which is expected to begin taking applications in April, allows individual restaurants to receive a grant equal to 100 percent of their pandemic-related losses, for up to a total of $5 million.

Steve Fontana, New Haven deputy director of economic development, told the News that the fund will offer vital support to New Haven’s small, mom-and-pop establishments, which compose the core of the city’s business community.

“I think [the Restaurant Revitalization Fund] is a tremendous thing to get restaurants hiring people back and get them through this next period,” Fontana said.

ARP also allocates another $1.25 billion in federal grant money to aid entertainment venues through the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, or SVOG, program. The U.S. Small Business Association created an online portal for entertainment venues hurt by COVID-19 to apply to the SVOG beginning April 8.

New Haven, home to Toad’s Place, College Street Music Hall and Cafe Nine, could benefit from this program, which aims to help entertainment venues stay afloat. 

“When you talk about New Haven, you talk about entertainment and food,” Fontana said. “The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program and the Restaurant Revitalization Fund are going to be huge shots in the arm to businesses in New Haven.”

The plan also revises the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, a loan program established to aid businesses in paying their employees. Under the plan, more categories of not-for-profit entities are eligible for PPP, $7 billion has been added to the program and 2021 PPP loan recipients are now eligible to apply for an SVOG.

Angela Lee ’23, an economic development fellow at the city’s Chamber of Commerce, conducts outreach to small businesses to share information on stimulus programs. Lee said the resource she provides most often to businesses is information on PPP eligibility and its application process. Businesses, she said, are often unsure if they meet qualifications to apply.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden signed the PPP Extension Act of 2021 into law, extending the application deadline for PPP loans from March 31 to May 31. Despite the revisions to the PPP program, Fontana noted that businesses in New Haven are hesitant to borrow more money.

“I don’t think [PPP] is going to be as successful as people hope,” Fontana said. “There are probably better ways to help small businesses; what they want is to see their customers back.” 

Fontana said he sees the local government as a support system to keep the city going until large federal stimulus packages like ARP come into play. In July, the city partnered with The Community Foundation Mission Investments Company to launch the Partnership Loan Program for Minority- and Women-Owned Small Businesses in Greater Haven, which provides low-interest and partially forgivable loans to small businesses.

The city’s Small Business Resource Center hired a consultant to provide up to five free hours of back-office support per month to New Haven businesses. The city also runs campaigns to promote local restaurants, such as New Haven Eats Outdoors — an outdoor dining program set to launch on April 1.

The American Rescue Plan Act passed the House with a 219-212 vote and the Senate with a 50-49 vote. 

Dominique Castanheira | dominique.castanheira@yale.edu