N.J. is reopening. We must now work together to rebuild the economy

For months, the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and the state’s business community have been urging Gov. Phil Murphy to reopen the state, where justified by the medical metrics, and let the flow of commerce help rebuild our economy.

Now that we are on the verge of a full reopening, we should remember there are still significant issues to address before this race is won.

If the business community walks in partnership with state government and we move together in a timely fashion, we can effectively address these remaining issues, and New Jersey can look forward to a robust and vigorous recovery.

The first thing that the state and business community must work together on is to instill confidence in workers and customers that it is safe to once again visit stores, offices, restaurants and other places of commerce.

It is incumbent on businesses to do their part by reminding employees what the medical data clearly show — that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective. Businesses must vigorously encourage employees to get vaccinated and, whenever possible, allow their employees the time they need to get themselves and their families vaccinated.

The faster we approach community protection (aka herd immunity), the sooner our economy shifts into high gear. The business community can and must play a significant role in getting our economy back to where it needs to be.

We now know that New Jersey’s revenue picture is considerably brighter than originally anticipated. One reason for that is higher-than-anticipated tax revenue. Another is an infusion of financial support from the federal government.

State Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio revealed Thursday that the feds deposited more than $6 billion — New Jersey’s share of the American Rescue Plan funds — into our coffers last week.

While revealing this news, the treasurer said one disconcerting thing: The federal government sent preliminary guidance about how the money should be spent and gave New Jersey officials 60 days to review and respond to these guidelines.

That will not work!

Businesses need this money now, not months from now.

We have already lost too many small businesses in this pandemic to wait another two months — or probably more — and watch hundreds more businesses fail while the state and federal governments discuss a question that has already been settled.

The U.S. Treasury previously provided guidance about how federal funds could be spent, and many items permit allocations in line with what the New Jersey Chamber has been advocating. So, we again urge state leaders to immediately allocate American Rescue Plan funds to address several significant problems.

First, pay down the more than $1 billion outstanding loan from the Federal Unemployment Balances account and replenish the state’s Unemployment Insurance Fund. This would alleviate a payroll tax increase for employers that would take effect July 1.

Second, release additional funds to make direct capital infusions to businesses that continue to desperately need working capital to survive. We suggest a pool of at least $2 billion for this purpose.

Third, address the worker shortage issue with a two-pronged approach:

  • ​​Follow the lead of several other states and allocate revenue for a one-time return-to-work bonus payment. Right now, a lot of people are reluctant to return to the workforce because the paycheck they would earn is less than the generous unemployment checks they have been receiving. A bonus payment that addresses the difference between these two checks would be a good back-to-work incentive.
  • Allocate revenue for working parents with child care needs and for the child care industry. The pandemic restrictions placed on the child care industry, coupled with the mounting child care expenses for working parents, forced parents to stay home with their children. With school schedules still in flux, funds need to be allocated to help qualified workers offset these additional and necessary expenses. Additional funds should also be provided to the child care industry to help them bounce back and provide viable alternatives to the child care dilemma.

The New Jersey Chamber would like to acknowledge the effective work of our federal and state lawmakers and Gov. Murphy’s team. Thanks to their efforts, New Jersey is now awash in cash — more than enough to address the remaining issues we face.

But, getting the capital is running only half the race. To win the race, we need to get the capital into the hands of the people and businesses that need it and to do so in a timely manner, so they can help make a significant contribution in restoring and revitalizing New Jersey’s reopening economy.

In summary, we are looking to address two items — vaccinations and money. The business community can and should take a lead role in getting us to community protection.  Conversely, the Murphy administration and the state Legislature can and should allocate the monies necessary for a robust and sustained economic recovery.

Tom Bracken is the CEO and president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, based in Trenton.