With indoor dining set to potentially resume as soon as next month in New Jersey, the state legislature passed a bill to help restaurants recoup money lost during the pandemic-related shutdown.
The bipartisan measure (A-4413/S-2704) would allocate $30 million to the Economic Development Authority through the CARES Act to reimburse restaurants via grants or loans, according to the bill text. The bill awaits action from Gov. Phil Murphy after passing both houses Aug. 27.
During his Aug. 26 media briefing, Murphy said he hopes to make an announcement within two weeks on indoor dining and added that “if the data stays as good as it is” he anticipates restaurants and bars being permitted to offer limited inside dining by mid-September.
Senate sponsors include President Steve Sweeney (D-3), State Sens. Vin Gopal (D-11) and Anthony Bucco (R-25), while the Assembly bill’s backers include BettyLou DeCroce (R-26), Holly Schepisi (R-39), Christopher DePhillips (R-40), Brian Bergen (R-25), Thomas Giblin (D-34), Gordon Johnson (D-37) and Jon Bramnick (D-21).
According to the bill, funding would go to restaurants that shelled out money on supplies in preparation for indoor dining’s return on July 2.
Outdoor dining resumed in June and Murphy originally announced he would permit indoor service at restaurants at a 25% capacity in early July; he called it off at the last minute in response to an uptick in cases across the country that originated in bars and restaurants.
Restaurant owners have reported losing thousands of dollars after the Murphy Administration reversed its decision, legislators said.
Bucco said in a statement, “Now, it’s almost two months later and they are still closed. The owners of many establishments spent money they didn’t, often on personal credit cards to buy food, PPE for staff and renovate their dining rooms to serve customers safely. The money the spent and losses they incurred, through no fault of their own, added insult to injury and restaurants deserve to be compensated.”
While eateries have been allowed to offer pick-up and delivery option, dining indoors was prohibited back in March as part of the state’s efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Industry Is ‘Devastated’
Marilou Halvorsen, President of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, said the pandemic has “devastated” restaurants and many establishments have not survived.
“For many owners already in a precarious position, this false start on indoor dining after they had paid for food, had their restaurants cleaned and hired employees has placed their livelihood in even greater jeopardy. This is a welcomed bipartisan bill that will help our restaurants survive the continued ban on indoor dining as well as prepare for their eventual reopening,” she said in a statement.
“These businesses are among the hardest hurt by the pandemic and they are at risk of permanently going out of business,” Sweeney said.
Want Restrictions Eased
The bill “will help reimburse the restaurants, bars and catering businesses that have followed the rules to protect the public’s health but are now paying the price,” he said.
The governor has faced mounting pressure from businesses, residents and legislators to ease restrictions enacted in response to the outbreak.
Schepisi recently sent a letter to Murphy on behalf of restaurant owners urging him to allow indoor service to resume “immediately” in order to “save the industry that serves as a backbone of our economy and provides employment to approximately half a million residents.”
New York Competition
The District 39 assemblywoman wrote, “The district I represent borders New York State and therefore none of our residents are less than a mile away from Rockland County, where indoor dining is currently allowed at 50% capacity. The Rockland County executive has indicated no uptick in cases since restaurants have instituted indoor dining in late June. The close proximity of these indoor dining options have resulted in an even greater loss of revenue for restaurant owners…especially on inclement weather days.”
“There are no scientific or health reasons, based upon numbers we have analyzed right across the border, to continue to hurt these businesses,” Schepisi declared.
Bucco said he believes “the best thing” New Jersey can do “for the suffering restaurant industry and its employees is to allow them to reopen for responsible indoor dining.”