The initiative allows local restaurants to apply for up to $15,000 in reimbursements for equipment, infrastructure, and technology purchases made between November 2021 and July 2022. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)
As restaurants face soaring food prices and a tight labor market, one state program intended to help continues to see a sluggish take-up. Of the $3 million in federal money set aside for the Local Restaurant Infrastructure Investment Funds Program, only 10.5 percent has been spent, state officials said this week.
The state has spent only $317,652 of the program’s money, with $2,654,812 still left to be awarded, the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery (GOFERR) said in an update to the Executive Council Wednesday.
“We’re not having 100 percent participation in the program, nor did I ever expect that we would,” said Taylor Caswell, executive director of the agency, to the council.
The initiative allows local restaurants to apply for up to $15,000 in reimbursements for equipment, infrastructure, and technology purchases made between November 2021 and July 2022. Those purchases must be due to COVID-19, and the money is not available to national chain restaurants or those making more than $20 million per year. The money comes from the state’s remaining share of its federal American Rescue Plan Act allocation.
Restaurants had until July 13 to submit applications for the funding, but only 32 have been awarded reimbursements, according to numbers released Wednesday. In its last two meetings, the Executive Council has approved 20 of those applications, ranging from $10,000 to $15,000. The other 12 restaurants asked for under $10,000 each, which falls below the threshold for Executive Council approval.
Asked by councilors about the lack of widespread interest so far, Caswell said that despite the outreach, restaurants appear to not have the time to apply
“There was some limitation to what you can use the funding for, for HVAC and for outside dining, for drive-thru and for technology upgrades. And I think for some restaurants, maybe they just decided this was not the right moment for them to do that,” he said.
While the application window has closed, GOFERR is still reviewing some applications, officials said Wednesday. The agency is planning to review the applications it receives each month, and then submit new approval requests. It is not clear how many restaurants’ applications are still in review.
On Wednesday, Caswell left open whether GOFERR would try to open another round of funding.
“The program itself is currently closed,” Caswell said. “So we’re going to see again where we end up with this program, (and) make some assessments as to whether we want to continue that, or do we want to put that funding back into some other program.”
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