State Senate (Sweeney, Gopal, Bucco) introduces bill to reimburse restaurant owners for false start

Broadmoor Restaurant The Broadmoor Restaurant in Lambertville.

It’s unclear how the monetary amount for each establishment will be determined, if the $30 million set-aside is enough, or even if the bill will become law, but the state Senate took the first step to reimbursing restaurants for money they spent on supplies in preparation for indoor dining’s return earlier this month — only to have that authorization rescinded.

Bar owners and caterers also would be eligible.

The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Ocean Twp.) and Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-Denville), would fund the reimbursements by appropriating $30 million to the Economic Development Authority from federal block grants allocated to the state from the CARES Act.

The EDA would then provide direct financial support, by way of loans or grants, according to the bill.

Restaurants were set to reopen for indoor dining on July 2, but the authorization to return to business was reversed by the governor only four days beforehand. Many restaurant owners said that they were out thousands of dollars due to the change.

Sweeney said the state must make good.

“This false start severely affected the food establishments that hired additional staff and spent money on equipment in anticipation of reopening,” he said. “These businesses are among the hardest hurt by the pandemic, and they are at risk of permanently going out of business. 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.”

Marilou Halvorsen, president of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association, said the industry is in need of assistance.

“Restaurants have been devastated by this pandemic,” she said. “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.

“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. This is a welcomed bipartisan bill that will help our restaurants survive the continued ban on indoor dining as well as prepare for their eventual reopening.”

Gopal agreed.

“These are often small businesses that serve as anchors in their communities, support economic activity and contribute to the quality of life,” he said. “They support our communities without fail time and time again. Now, we will extend a hand to lift them up at this critical time.”

Bucco said it’s the right thing to do.

“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,” he said. “They incurred unnecessary losses through no fault of their own, in compliance with the governor’s orders, and deserve to be compensated through the $2 billion in federal financial aid that remains unspent by the state.”

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