State Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Reimburse Restaurants for Costs of Stalled Reopening

Diners enjoy eating their meals outside at a restaurant in Montclair, N.J., Wednesday, July 1, 2020, days after New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy postponed the resumption of indoor dining.

Diners enjoy eating their meals outside at a restaurant in Montclair, N.J., Wednesday, July 1, 2020, days after New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy postponed the resumption of indoor dining. Associated Press

 

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Legislation before the New Jersey legislature would use federal coronavirus relief funds to reimburse restaurants, caterers and bars for preparations to resume in-person dining before it was canceled by the governor.

Some lawmakers in New Jersey hope to use federal coronavirus relief funds to reimburse restaurant owners for preparations made to resume indoor dining before Gov. Phil Murphy canceled the reopening, citing public health concerns.

The bipartisan legislation, introduced Monday in the state legislature, would allocate $30 million from the state’s share of the federal CARES Act “to provide financial support, by way of loans or grants, to food establishments for costs associated with business operation interruptions caused by Executive Order No. 158.”

That order, issued by Murphy on June 29, reversed an earlier decision to allow indoor dining to resume at 25% capacity in New Jersey restaurants on July 2. Murphy said the change was in part due to coronavirus cases spiking in states that had already resumed indoor dining at bars and restaurants, along with reports of businesses and customers in New Jersey refusing to wear masks and obey other public health guidelines.

“Unfortunately, the spike in cases in numerous other states, compounded by instances of non-compliance in New Jersey, require us to hit pause on the restart of indoor dining indefinitely,” he said in a statement. “I recognize that there are many establishments whose owners, managers, and customers have been responsible, but we cannot move forward unless there is complete compliance.”

Supporters of the legislation said the short notice blindsided business owners, who had already shelled out money for personal protective equipment, food and supplies in anticipation of reopening.

“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,” state Sen. Anthony Bucco, a Republican and one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said in a statement. “They incurred unnecessary losses through no fault of their own, in compliance with the governor’s orders, and deserve to be compensated.”

The legislation is supported by the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, which noted that restaurants, which rely on consistent businesses to remain profitable, are among the businesses hardest hit by the pandemic.

“The shutdown has already led to several of our members closing their doors,” Marilou Halvorsen, the association’s president, said in a statement. “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.”

As of Saturday, New Jersey had nearly 177,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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