A total of 186,200 restaurants, bars and other eligible businesses applied for help from a new $28.6 billion federal aid program in the first two days it was accepting applications, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Wednesday, indicating huge demand from a struggling industry for limited relief funds.
The Restaurant Revitalization Fund was created by Congress as part of the $1.9 trillion relief bill passed in March. Business owners who were hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic can apply for grants of up to $10 million.
Mr. Biden is expected to give remarks on Wednesday afternoon promoting the newly opened fund.
For the first 21 days, the Small Business Administration will only approve claims from businesses that are majority-owned by women, veterans or individuals who qualify as both socially and economically disadvantaged.
Ms. Psaki said Wednesday that 97,600 of the applications received in the program’s first two days had come from businesses owned by people who fell into those categories.
“We look forward to implementing that program,” Ms. Psaki said, emphasizing the high demand for the relief funds. But it’s not clear that high demand is necessarily a good thing for a program that has limited funding and will have to turn many needy businesses away.
“We know that the $28.6 billion is not enough to meet the demand,” Isabella Casillas Guzman, the small business administrator, said last week. “However, we need to demonstrate that demand, and we need to encourage everyone to apply and access this fund as much as possible and demonstrate what remaining need is out there.”
Ms. Psaki said the administration would be open to seeking more funding from Congress in the future.
Before his own remarks at the White House, Mr. Biden purchased tacos and enchiladas from Taqueria Las Gemelas, a Mexican restaurant in Washington that Ms. Psaki said was a beneficiary of the relief fund’s pilot program. The program has yet to distribute any funds outside of the limited pilot.