As New Jersey continues to cope with the economic fallout of COVID-19, the state is giving out $100 million more in federal coronavirus aid to help restaurants, small businesses, and families hurt by the pandemic, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Tuesday.
More than half of the money is for a pool of $70 million that businesses can apply for as part of the state Economic Development Authority’s coronavirus businesses assistance grant program.
That, Murphy said, $35 million to help the state’s restaurants and food service industry “stay open" and $15 million to help “microbusinesses” with no more than five employees. Those are companies the governor said have been particularly hit hard by the economic downturn.
The other money includes:
- $15 million into the state’s rental assistance program, which helps hurting businesses pay for rent.
- $10 million for the EDA’s PPE access program, in which businesses can purchase face masks and other equipment for their employees.
- $5 million to food banks and other hunger relief programs.
The state also announced an additional $12 million in rental and mortgage assistance for families who are struggling.
“All of this will help us keep our economy moving ahead and our families working,” Murphy said during a news conference at Flounder Brewing Company in Hillsborough, one of the businesses he said this money will help.
With a wall of beer kegs behind the podium, the governor was joined by some of the state’s other top Democratic leaders — Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex.
The funding they announced comes from the CARES Act, the first coronavirus stimulus package that Congress passed in April to help states, businesses, and residents recover from the pandemic, which has severely damaged the U.S. economy and killed more than 214,000 Americans, including more than 16,000 New Jerseyans.
More than 1.65 million residents in New Jersey have filed for unemployment, businesses have lost untold revenue, and numerous businesses have closed permanently in the wake of months of lockdowns and social-distancing orders to fight COVID-19.
But the state Republican Party criticized Tuesday’s announcement, noting it comes 200 days after the Congress passed CARES Act and pointing to a report by the State Auditor’s Office that found New Jersey has handed only about 10% of the $2.4 billion in aid it has received from the stimulus law since Sept. 30.
“Phil Murphy has been watching New Jersey drown while he uses our life preserver as a hoola hoop,” state party chairman Doug Steinhardt said. “It’s inconceivable that Murphy sat on this relief for this long while New Jerseyans drowned. We deserve answers.”
Murphy told reporters Tuesday that the delay is because the federal government took a while to give “guidance” to the state on how to use the funds and that some of the money has been designated to be doled out incrementally over time.
The governor said the state has so far allocated $150 million in federal funds to help more than 20,000 businesses in New Jersey. He said he did not know how much the state has left.
Murphy also denied that he appeared with Malinowski, D-7th Dist., on Tuesday and U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, D-3rd Dist., on Friday to help boost them in their competitive re-election bids just weeks away from Election Day.
“This is about good government,” Murphy said. “This is about delivering for people and businesses that need it the most."
Jeremy Lees, the owner of Flounder Brewing, said he didn’t need to apply for coronavirus aid in the spring because summer is a busy month for his industry and the business was about to “keep afloat.” But this new program, he said, could be a big help.
“Now that we’re going into the fall and we’re gonna get darker nights, colder nights, we don’t know what the sales are going to be,” Lees said.
Murphy and his fellow Democrats reiterated that New Jersey needs more money from Washington. The event comes as leaders in Washington continue to negotiate a second federal stimulus bill.
“As proud as I am of the billions in aid already delivered to New Jersey by the CARES Act, we need to do so much more," Menendez said. "That bill was never intended to be our last legislative response to the worst pandemic in 100 years.”
New Jersey’s coronavirus numbers have improved significantly over the summer after peaking in April but have been trending upwards in recent weeks. The state on Tuesday announced 993 new cases and seven additional coronavirus deaths.
“We still have work to do to beat this virus,” Murphy said. “As long as we stay focused, there is nothing New Jersey cannot do.”
Murphy has gradually eased coronavirus restrictions and business closings over the last few months. Some lawmakers and business owners continue to call on Murphy to move more quickly, including raising indoor dining capacity, which is currently limited at 25%. The governor said last week he is considering raising capacity in 10% increments, but he did not have an exact date Tuesday for when that may happen.
“But I do hope it’s sooner than later," Murphy added.