Bracken: Let’s pause — and recognize how much N.J.’s political, business leaders have done

File photo New Jersey Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Tom Bracken was among those who appeared.

It is hard to believe the coronavirus outbreak that has virtually paralyzed businesses and crashed global financial markets only grabbed our attention a few weeks ago.

Each day, the headlines sound more foreboding as state and federal officials across the U.S. try to get their arms around how fast the virus is spreading and how it will impact the economy.

It is not a surprise that the bad news grabs the lion’s share of the headlines, but we should recognize the many positive things New Jersey’s government and business leaders are already doing to address the coronavirus outbreak.

The New Jersey Legislature, working with lightning speed and laudable bipartisanship, has passed a package of more than 20 bills aimed at helping people and businesses deal with the economic downturn anticipated in the coming weeks. Gov. Phil Murphy has begun signing them, as well.

The legislation does everything from extending the deadline for mailing primary election ballots to establishing an emergency food distribution fund.

Some of the bills wisely target aid to those businesses likely to see sales drop, and which, consequently, may need to scale back operations and/or employees.

One of these bills in particular allows New Jersey’s Economic Development Authority to award special funding to businesses during an emergency so they can keep running. The EDA is also ramping up loan, financing and technical assistance programs for businesses.

Murphy and the Legislature are also currently building a business assistance program, which is targeted to be up and running shortly.

In another welcomed display of bipartisanship, our Democratic governor and the Republican administration in Washington, D.C., are having needed discussions about how the Army Corps of Engineers can help build additional hospitals for the anticipated explosion of coronavirus cases we are likely to see in New Jersey.

At the same time, the U.S. Small Business Administration has announced it has low-interest disaster loans of up to $2 million available.

The New Jersey business community also has stepped up.

The magnificent work of our health care professionals across the state to care for the afflicted, sometimes at their own personal risk, is nothing short of inspiring.

Doctors and researchers at New Jersey’s labs and research facilities are working around the clock to find a vaccine. Hospitals, clinics and medical offices have adapted to the new normal by creating telemedicine options and drive-thru testing.

Insurance companies are committing to waive the copays and cover the costs of coronavirus tests. Further, most are suspending requirements for patients to get prior authorizations for a visit to a primary care physician, urgent care center or emergency room if they are displaying coronavirus-like symptoms.

More than 60% of New Jersey Chamber of Commerce member companies have told us they have canceled face-to-face meetings or conferences in compliance with Murphy’s requests, and the same percentage of companies have made provisions for their employees to work from home.

Communications service providers are adding additional capacity and speed to their internet services and offering degrees of complimentary service to their customers.

Banks are doing their share to calm the growing anxiety by announcing measures including waiving certain service fees, deferring credit card and mortgage payments and extending banking hours.

Credit is vital when markets are in an upheaval and need to be stabilized, so it is very important that many of these banks have announced they will make working capital more readily available for businesses and that they will defer certain loan payments up to 90 days for businesses struggling during the crisis.

We need to be realistic — we have not seen the end of the challenges the coronavirus will cause in New Jersey.

But, neither have we seen the end of the admirable work many of New Jersey’s political and business leaders have shown in response.

Tom Bracken is the CEO and president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.

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