Expanded indoor dining? Murphy won’t offer timeline

It’s the dreaded “sooner rather than later” response. And it’s all restaurant owners have to go on — for now — when it comes to the possibility of expanded indoor dining.

Friday morning, on WOND-AM 1400 in Atlantic City, Gov. Phil Murphy posed the question himself, then answered it.

“Can we go from 25% in restaurants to 50% or more, responsibly, sooner than later? I think we can,” he said.

When that might happen is not clear. On Wednesday, during his COVID-19 briefing, the governor said he could not offer a timeline.

This much is clear: Restaurants operating as they once did is not a likely scenario this fall.

“I don’t think we’re going back to where we were anytime soon,” he said on the radio program.

Other notes from Friday’s briefing:

Unemployment update

On Thursday, the Department of Labor & Workforce Development released its weekly report that showed there were 24,663 initial unemployment claims made in the past week, marking a one-week increase of roughly 5,000 claims. Murphy said this increase, while alarming, is a reflection of the norm throughout the country.

“This is not relegated to just New Jersey,” Murphy said. “Our statistics follow a national increase in claims.”

The governor also gave an update on overall unemployment numbers during the pandemic. In the period of Mar. 21 to Sept. 19, there were 1,394,570 individuals who met the monetary requirement for benefits. Of those, 96% of applicants have received at least one payment, and the total amount given reached $15.65 billion during that time.

Murphy continued to note that New Jersey residents can now apply to the FEMA Lost Wages Supplemental Assistance Program. Once approved, applicants can expect to get a bulk payment of $300 per week applied for as early as next month, with the current maximum period for extra benefits set at six weeks.

The governor ended with an impassioned plea to the nation’s lawmakers.

“Folks in Congress, please hear us,” he said. “This is the moment. This is the time to go big. This is the moment to pass a big federal stimulus bill. … This is not the time to shirk responsibility in Washington. This is the time to step up big and deliver exactly what every American state and every American needs.”

Motor Vehicle Commission policies

Murphy also provided an update on the efforts by his office and the Motor Vehicle Commission  to try and alleviate the massive lines being seen at nearly every location.

“Regardless of what may be printed on your basic driver’s license renewal notice, you may renew your license online and skip the trip to an agency,” Murphy said. “We know that many motorists have received renewal notices that tell them they have to appear in person. … These renewal notices were printed and sent long before the change in the law earlier this month.”

The governor continued to announce that expirations on all Commercial Driver’s Licenses and Learner’s Permits have officially been extended to Dec. 31, 2020. Additionally, every Tuesday and Thursday from 2-4 p.m., the MVC will operate new “Senior Hours” for new and used car registrations. Residents age 65 and older will be eligible to come during these hours.

Final word

Murphy on the recent decision in the Breonna Taylor case:

“Any loss of life is a tragedy, and certainly Breonna Taylor was cut down in her prime with so much in front of her. She had such promise. It is clear to me from the outside looking in that justice was not properly served here. Hard to say otherwise.

“With a heavy heart, I say we all have to stay on the road together toward that better day of complete civil rights and social justice and complete removal of … racism. Breonna Taylor’s life mattered. Black lives matter. Period. Full stop.”

Read more from ROI-NJ: