New Jersey small businesses are in line for COVID-19 relief funds after Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation Thursday that allocates $25 million in grants for businesses with five or fewer employees.
The new law is the latest effort to help the state’s so-called microbusinesses make it through the ongoing health crisis following a series of shutdown orders and other public health measures that have been in place to curb new infections since the pandemic began last year.
During a bill-signing ceremony in Medford, Burlington County, Murphy called small businesses the “backbone of the economy of this state.”
The $25 million allocation for microbusinesses was part of a broader, $100 million business-aid package that lawmakers sent to the governor with broad bipartisan support just last week, and Murphy has indicated more bill signings will be held later this month.
“We can say, definitively, help is here,” he said.
In addition to the health crisis itself, the pandemic has also triggered a record-setting economic downturn in New Jersey, and while there’s been some improvement in recent months, boosting the state economy has remained a key concern for the governor and lawmakers.
Earlier rounds of aid
An estimated $250 million in business aid has already been distributed throughout the state by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority since the pandemic began. And earlier this year, Murphy signed a $14 billion corporate-tax incentive law that also included some funding for small businesses.
But Republican lawmakers and business-lobbying groups have been calling for more help, pointing to statistics that indicate nearly 30% of the state’s small businesses have closed permanently over the last year. New Jersey’s unemployment rate has also been consistently higher than the national jobless average despite improving somewhat since the worst days of the pandemic last year.
The new allocation of $25 million will come from funding the state has already received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which was enacted by the federal government last year in response to the health crisis.
The money will be used to fund grants that will be administered by the Trenton-based Economic Development Authority, according to the new law.
“As soon as the governor signs the bill, we’ll be hard at work getting this money out,” said Tim Sullivan, the agency’s chief executive officer, during Thursday’s bill signing.
Businesses ‘shouldn’t have to close their doors’
Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego (D-Burlington) said microbusinesses have had to face “unprecedented challenges through no fault of their own” during the ongoing pandemic.
“New Jersey never fully recovered from the Great Recession, and a lot of that was due to the limited relief residents, businesses and organizations received,” said Addiego, a primary sponsor of the bill.
“Microbusinesses shouldn’t have to close their doors due to the pandemic,” she said.
The broader package of business-aid measures passed by both houses of the Legislature last week included additional aid for food and beverage businesses; arts and culture organizations; child care providers; and other businesses and nonprofits. The aid bills total $100 million, and are all supported by the previously received federal funds.
The advancement of those measures came as New Jersey is in line to receive another more than $6 billion in federal aid to fund the ongoing response to the health crisis. That dwarfs the amount allocated to New Jersey last year through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
How exactly the state will spend the new batch of federal dollars is an issue that’s come up during recent public hearings on Murphy’s proposed budget plan for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. After Murphy played an outsize role in determining how to use the earlier aid dollars, lawmakers from both parties have indicated they want a bigger role going forward, especially as the state moves away from operating solely in crisis mode.