(The Center Square) – A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate would reimburse New Jersey restaurants, bars and caterers for supplies purchased in anticipation reopening their indoor dining rooms.
The reopening plans were halted by Gov. Phil Murphy just days before the reopening date of July 2. Murphy cited a resurgence in COVID-19 cases in other states that may have been sparked by indoor dining.
“Many restaurant owners had already spent money they didn’t have, often on personal credit cards, to buy food, obtain PPE for staff, and renovate their dining rooms to serve customers safely, said Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris/Somerset, who is sponsoring the bill along with Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland and Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth.
The trio is proposing $30 million that would come from about $2 billion of funds still unspent from the federal CARES Act. The money would be distributed by New Jersey’s Economic Development Authority in the form of grants or loans, according to a news release from the senators.
“These businesses are among the hardest hurt by the pandemic and they are at risk of permanently going out of business.,” Sweeney said. “This 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.”
Restaurants are often “anchors” in communities and “contribute to the quality of life, Gopal said.
“They support our communities without fail time and time again,” Gopal said. “Now we will extend a hand to lift them up at this critical time.”
The bill has the backing of New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association.
“In an industry known for its tight profit margins and reliance on steady, consistent business, the shutdown has already led to several of our members closing their doors,” said Marilou Halvorsen, president of the association. “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.”
Restaurants and bars are still allowed to offer outdoor dining options. Murphy said Monday he had no timeline for when he will allow indoor dining but praised his outdoor dining experiences.
Health officials are asking anyone who comes to New Jersey from one of 22 states where coronavirus cases are increasing to self-quarantine for 14 days.
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