House Speaker Ron Mariano's top budget chief expects the Legislature to use some of the state's $2.25 billion in leftover federal pandemic relief funds to boost aid specifically for Black-owned restaurants, and the restaurant industry as a whole.
Outside the State House on Tuesday, a group gathered to kick off the Boston Black Restaurant Challenge, which coincides with Black History Month and seeks to boost Black-owned eateries. At the event, North End Representative and House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz told the group that they can expect more aid from the state when lawmakers return to plans for spending the federal dollars.
"I think this will be an industry that will definitely need more attention and we will have to try to look at how to supplement that," Michlewitz told reporters after the gathering.
Michlewitz said budget writers are tracking how last year's $4 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds are being allocated and will see where new funding should be directed. The North End Democrat said there's no agreement between the House and Senate on when to debate another spending bill for the remaining funds.
"But I think there is a desire to do something before the end of the session here," he said.
Roxbury Rep. Chynah Tyler said Black restaurant owners have historically been unable to access capital and banking services, and that they struggled even before the Black community became one of the hardest hit by the pandemic.
"The restaurant industry isn't the only center for the foodies to be able to enjoy, but for African American families, it's a sense of culture and we want to be able to continue to uplift that culture, particularly now during Black History Month," Tyler said.
Nia Grace from Darryl's Corner, who organizes the challenge that's been operating each February since 2018, was clear that lawmakers need to do more to assist struggling Black-owned businesses. After $350,000 was allocated in last year's ARPA bill, Grace still sees participating restaurants considering closing their doors.
"What we need right now is more to match. We need more to support. We need more to get ahead and to secure our presence here in the city of Boston," Grace said.