President Joe Biden touted the impacts of his sweeping $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan on Wednesday, but said a certain sector of the economy still needs help: the restaurant industry.
Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill was passed earlier this year and provided $1,400 checks for most Americans and directed billions of dollars to schools, state and local governments, and businesses.
"The message is clear: help is here. And the bottom line is this, the American Rescue Plan is working. America is getting vaccinated, job creation is soaring, the economy is growing and our country is on the move again," Biden said. "But some of the parts of our economy need special help. At the top of that list is our nation’s restaurants."
He said right now only about a quarter of restaurant owners in the country are expected to return to normal operations within the next six months.
Biden encouraged restaurant and other food business owners to apply for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which is part of the American Rescue Plan.
The fund will provide emergency assistance to eligible restaurants, bars and other qualifying food establishments impacted by COVID-19.
Biden said the grant money can be used to help cover payroll, rent, utilities or supplies.
"We’re opening the doors of this program so that restaurants all over the country can open their doors again," he added.
The application is open now. Biden said about 100,000 restaurants and other small businesses will be able to get help from the fund.
The American Rescue Plan is also funding Biden’s national vaccination program, which hit its goal of administering 200 million shots by Biden’s 100th day in office.
On Tuesday, Biden announced he had set a new goal of getting 70% of American adults one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and to have 160 million fully vaccinated by the Fourth of July.
The Biden administration is in a "new phase" of vaccinations as it seeks to make it easier for people to get shots amid waning demand. Biden called for states to make COVID-19 vaccines available on a walk-in basis and said he will direct all federal pharmacy partners to do the same.
Nationwide, more than 56% of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and nearly 41% of American adults are fully vaccinated against the virus, CDC data shows.
The vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, one of three currently being administered in the U.S. and authorized for those 16 and older, has been found to offer protection for young people ages 12 to 15. The FDA is expected to expand its emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s vaccine for those 12 and older by early next week, according to the Associated Press.
Inoculating younger Americans will be critical in curbing the spread of the virus to end the pandemic. Part of Biden’s American Rescue Plan also calls for support to help local governments and schools safely reopen classrooms to in-person learning.
The White House did not say specifically which part of his plan’s implementation the president will be addressing Wednesday.
Meanwhile, health experts are projecting the coronavirus toll in the U.S. will wane dramatically by the end of July. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention talked about the research earlier on Wednesday in a COVID-19 briefing.
But CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky noted the variants are a "wild card" that could set back progress.
The CDC is currently reporting an average of about 350,000 new cases each week, 35,000 hospitalizations and more than 4,000 deaths.
The U.S. death toll stands at more than 578,000.
The Associated Press contributed to this report