DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – The Ohio restaurant industry is calling on Congress to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund that ran out of money earlier this year.

Only one-third of businesses that applied got money. Many more were told they would get it, but ultimately did not. Emily Mendenhall is a co-owner of Lily’s Bistro. She says, “There’s definitely still a real threat. And there’s a lot of digging out that’s still being done.”

Many restaurants need more help right now. John Barker is the President & CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association. He says, “If these kinds of funds aren’t made available to some of these people, they will start to close down operations completely. They’ll have no choice.”

Congress originally appropriated $28 billion for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, but Barker says, “Another $60 billion qualified for funding. So that shows you how devastating the losses were.”

Mendenhall had her application for Lily’s Bistro kicked back. By the time it was accepted, the fund was dry. She says, “That would have given us a big opportunity to plan more long term. For our employees and our business.”

Now a plan to replenish the fund is moving through Congress, but time is critical. The state of Ohio has already lost 3,000 restaurants, and many more are still at risk. Mendenhall says, “More restaurants and folks in hospitality have either been turned down or missed the window because it was so short.”

While things may look normal to some diners, restaurants are still trying to make up for 16 months of lost revenue. Mendenhall explains, “When the revenue paused, or the revenue went substantially down, the expenses did not. You can’t just put a stop on those things.”

And Barker acknowledges the $290 billion lost industry-wide during the pandemic is likely too big a figure for most people to grasp. He says, “Of course it’s dollars, but it’s lives that are more important. It’s all the people who no longer had a job because businesses couldn’t make it.”

Emily Mendenhall says now is the time for lawmakers to prove they care about small businesses.

We reached out to both Senator Sherrod Brown and Senator Rob Portman Friday to learn where they stand on replenishing the fund. Neither team has responded.