Murphy signs bill appropriating additional $35M in grants to restaurants

Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday signed into law bill A5444, which will provide $35 million in federal COVID-19 relief aid for restaurants throughout New Jersey.

Murphy has now signed three of the five bills of a $100 million relief package passed by the Legislature. The package also includes $10 million for child care services and $15 million for nonprofits and other businesses.

The money will be distributed by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, which has yet to determine the rules and regulations surrounding the program — although it hopes to have it available by the end of the month.

Murphy, speaking in Atlantic City outside of Bourré Cajun BBQ Cuisine, emphasized that the money will be grants — and in no way will need to be paid back. Murphy noted the bill now doubles the grants the state has made available to restaurants.

Last fall, approximately 3,000 restaurants were approved for $35 million in grants from Phase 3 of the Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program. In that instance, restaurants were awarded grants of $10,000-$20,000, depending on their size.

Murphy said the grants go to support the sector, which he feels is a key to the state’s identity.

“Our restaurants aren’t just part of our economy,” he said. “New Jersey’s entire food scene reflects our diversity. It reflects our personality. It reflects our adventure and our adventurousness, it reflects our hospitality, quite simply reflects our core values, and we must fight to protect and strengthen it through the efforts of everyone here today. We will keep doing just that.”

Murphy noted the state has had a number of programs to help the sector. One particularly creative effort, the Sustain and Serve Program, gave $2 million in grants to nonprofits — which then used the money to buy food for the hungry at no cost to residents.

Murphy said help the industry helps everyone.

“Our restaurants and bars and breweries and wineries are a critical part of our state, our economy and our culture,” he said. “These are not just small businesses. These are places where communities come together and which also help define a community. These are places where people from all over the region and, indeed, the entire country come for a taste of New Jersey. These are also places that are creating jobs and transforming neighborhoods for the better, redefining our state.”

NJEDA CEO Tim Sullivan said the funds will go to a sector that has been devastated by the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented health and economic tragedy for everyone, but it is hard to think of a sector that has been hit harder than restaurants,” he said. “Restaurant owners and their employees have faced previously unimaginable challenges with a tenacity and grit that has been inspiring for everyone, but they cannot overcome COVID-19 alone.

“There is now a light at the end of the tunnel, but we still have a long way to go to get there. The $35 million in new grant funding Gov. Murphy has signed into law today will provide vital support these businesses need to bridge the gap and continue reopening safely.”