N.J. restaurants that missed out on pandemic aid could get another shot under new bill

Published: Apr. 07, 2022

Nearly 5,000 New Jersey restaurants whose request for federal pandemic aid was denied when a government program to help them ran out of money would have another chance for financial assistance under legislation that passed the House on Thursday.

The measure would replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which paid out $923 million to 3,086 applicants in the state. Another 4,706 New Jersey restaurants sought help but were turned away when the program ran out of money.

Gov. Phil Murphy ordered the state’s restaurants to suspend indoor dining in April 2020 to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and allowed to reopen with reduced capacity in September.

“It’s been two years now but the restaurant industry has been one of the hardest hit industries,” said Amanda Stone, government affairs director for the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association.

Under the legislation, $42 billion would be added to the restaurant fund.

The bill, sponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., passed 223-203, with most Democrats supporting and most Republicans opposing. All 10 New Jersey Democrats voted yes.

“Few industries have been hit hardest during the pandemic than the food and beverage industry,” said Rep. Donald Payne Jr., D-10th Dist. “Many restaurants are family-owned small businesses that have been passed down through generations. We must do everything we can to support these small businesses until our economy recovers.”

Both New Jersey Republicans voted no, even though Reps. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd Dist., and Chris Smith, R-4th Dist., had co-sponsored the bill after it was introduced last June. Neither responded to a request for comment on why they voted against the legislation they co-sponsored.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate with both U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker as co-sponsors.

A January survey by the National Restaurant Association said the initial Restaurant Revitalization Fund saved 30,000 jobs in New Jersey, and a new round could save an additional 45,000.

As the economy reopens from the pandemic, restaurants also must cope with a shortage of employees, supply chain problems, and inflation, said Eileen Kean, New Jersey director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

“It’s so difficult right now for the hospitality industry,” Kean said. “Not only are they paying their employees more, but every product is more expensive. It saddens these businesses to pass these costs onto their customers but if their doors are open, they have no choice.”

In addition to restaurants, the legislation would provide $13 billion to businesses with fewer than 200 employees that saw a 40% drop in revenues in 2020 and 2021 compared with 2019. Any assistance they receive would be reduced by any payroll protection program funds they obtained.

Businesses that received help under either the restaurant aid program or a separate fund for live venues such as concert halls would be ineligible for the additional support.

“This bill would finally provide relief for the remaining small businesses that have spent two years struggling to keep their doors open and have been left out of other programs,” said Rep. Andy Kim, D-3rd Dist., a member of the House Small Business Committee.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-04-08 03:24:37 -0700