New Jersey State Senator Anthony M. Bucco warned that restaurants across New Jersey that have suffered steep economic losses since March will soon go out of business permanently if they are not allowed to reopen their dining rooms or provided direct financial support from the State’s share of billions in unspent CARES Act funding.
“Four months after Governor Murphy ordered New Jersey restaurants to close their doors, many are on the verge of going out of business permanently, if they haven’t already,” said Bucco (R-25). “Limited outdoor dining and pick-up and delivery orders have only replaced a fraction of the revenues that many local eateries were generating before the crisis. Unless the governor allows restaurants to resume some measure of indoor dining immediately or provides direct financial relief, many will close forever. That would be a tremendous and unnecessary loss to communities across New Jersey.”
Bucco noted that New Jersey received nearly $2.4 billion in CARES Act money from the federal government in March to support the needs of small businesses, non-profits, and local governments impacted by COVID-19. More than $2.1 billion of those federal funds remains unspent.
Efforts by the Legislature to put those federal relief funds to use for their intended purposes have been blocked repeatedly by Governor Murphy.
For example, the Legislature approved bipartisan legislation (A-3959) co-sponsored by Bucco in May to appropriate $100 million of those CARES Act funds received by New Jersey to establish a no-interest loan program to support qualified small hospitality businesses, including restaurants. Governor Murphy vetoed that legislation on June 29th.
Similarly, Bucco and Senate President Steve Sweeney introduced a bill (S-2704) this month that would dedicate $30 million of those federal funds to reimburse restaurants, bars, and caterers that spent money on supplies in preparation for indoor dining’s return on July 2nd only to have that authorization to reopen rescinded by Governor Murphy at the last minute.
“The sad truth is that many of our favorite restaurants won’t survive Governor Murphy’s continued lockdown orders and backtracking on indoor dining,” said Bucco. “While more establishments go out of business every day, the governor is sitting on $2.1 billion of federal relief that he’s refused to share with those who need it most. That money was supposed to help people, not collect dust in a State account for four months.”
To date, 97.7% of the $2.4 billion in CARES Act funding received by New Jersey has not been put to productive use.
Rather than make responsible adjustments to the State budget in response to the public health emergency, Governor Murphy has been advocating for the federal government to allow him to use the federal aid received by New Jersey to close budget gaps, something the CARES Act expressly prohibits.
“It is crystal clear that Governor Murphy has been hoarding billions of dollars in federal funds in the hopes of being able to use it to plug budget holes instead of using the funds for their intended purposes,” added Bucco. “That’s not why New Jersey was given those funds. It was to keep small businesses, local restaurants, and non-profits from boarding up. It was to keep tumbleweeds from blowing down desolate Main Streets across New Jersey.”
“Governor Murphy needs to let indoor dining resume in some reasonable and safe fashion so restaurants can earn their way back to financial health, or he needs to distribute some of the $2.1 billion of unspent CARES Act funds to help them survive until he lets them reopen,” Bucco concluded. “Doing nothing isn’t working. It’s killing New Jersey.”