Assembly committee approves $235M in business COVID-relief grants

Daniel J. Munoz//May 19, 2021//

Assembly committee approves $235M in business COVID-relief grants

Daniel J. Munoz//May 19, 2021//

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Lawmakers are quickly moving ahead with a $235 million relief package for COVID-hit businesses, meant to hold them over as the state navigates what could be the tail end of the pandemic.

All six bills were approved unanimously by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on May 19, after Gov. Phil Murphy put forward a request earlier this month for the state Legislature to approve this grant money.

Those bills call for $120 million to microbusinesses; $10 million to child care providers; $20 million to restaurants, bars, and other food and beverage establishments; $50 million to businesses and nonprofits; $25 million for startups, and $10 million for the “Sustain and Serve NJ” program, which effectively pays restaurants to prepare meals for some of the state’s most in-need residents.

The funds will be administered by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, which is overseeing $85 million in relief funds and has awarded $250 million worth of grants, loans and other aid to a combined 55,000 businesses in the past year.

Like prior rounds of funding, the new aid would come out of the state’s allotment under the Trump-era Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Assembly Appropriations Chair John Burzichelli, D-3rd District, before the Assembly Oversight Reform and Federal Regulations Committee in May 2018.

“Getting this out on the street is what’s going to be critical,” Assemblyman Jon Burzichelli, D-3th District, who chairs the appropriations committee, said on May 19.

Mike Egenton, executive vice president of government relations at the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, told lawmakers that these types of grants were critical to getting businesses “jump-started” with their openings coming out of the pandemic.

Amid COVID-19 pandemic business closures and ensuing restrictions, businesses have relied on billions of dollars in state and federal aid, most grants, or forgivable or low-interest loans.

Under the federal Paycheck Protection Program, the U.S. Small Business Administration approved 157,405 forgivable loans totaling $17.3 billion in 2020, and in 2021 approved 134,362 loans totaling roughly $8 billion.

Those funds have run out, and it’s up to Congress and the White House to decide whether to approve another tranche of aid.

A $28.6 billion pot of money run by the SBA to help pandemic-hit bars and restaurants saw more than 16,000 applicants as of May 11. Meanwhile a $16 billion grant program meant to help pandemic-hit live venues, performing arts centers, theaters and museums had 11,500 applicants as of May 11.