When my wife and I opened Jake’s Bar and Grill three years ago in small-town Harriman, Tennessee, we had no idea we would face discrimination from the federal government, let alone sue the government and receive an injunction in our favor. But on May 27, a 2-1 ruling from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals granted us a preliminary injunction halting a federal program that used people’s race and sex to determine their eligibility for $29 billion in COVID-19 relief for restaurants.
My name is Antonio Vitolo. My wife Danielle and I operate our restaurant full time as our main means of income. Our sales were great in January and February of 2020, but by the end of March we saw a significant decline due to COVID-19 lockdowns.
In April, we went from making about $50,000 per month in sales to a little over $9,000. We were forced to do carry-out only and, since we are in a very rural area, we only had enough business to justify being open on the weekends.
When the Biden administration promised the American Rescue Plan Act’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund would provide financial aid to restaurants through the Small Business Administration (SBA), we were relieved. I registered for an account the Friday before the application portal opened. On Monday, May 3, I was sitting at my computer within an hour of the portal’s opening to complete the application.
I answered the questions honestly, including the ones asking about race and sex. After I applied, I received an email saying I would not be considered for funding for at least 21 days, while other “priority” applicants — women and minorities — were considered.
As a Hispanic woman, my wife fits both of those categories. But because we each own 50 percent of the venture, and I am a white man, we were sent to the back of the application line. We also heard the SBA would likely run out of funds by the time we could be considered.
We could not believe it. Here we were, a once successful and booming restaurant, knocked down by
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