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The Legislature gave final approval on Thursday to a bill that would reimburse restaurants, bars and caterers for money they spent in preparation for the planned reopening of indoor dining last month before the governor reversed course and extended the shutdown.

The bill, S-2704 (Sweeney)/A-4413 (Bramnick), would appropriate $30 million to the Economic Development Authority (EDA) from federal CARES Act funding to provide loans and grants to qualified restaurants. The bill now awaits action by Gov. Phil Murphy.

Restaurants were preparing to reopen their indoor dining rooms on a limited basis on July 2 following the governor’s executive order, only to see it rescinded just a few days before it was scheduled to begin. Murphy recently said that the state hopes to allow indoor dining again by mid-September but has not set a specific date.

“Restaurants invested thousands of dollars in fresh food, bringing back employees, and new equipment and supplies for cleaning protocols so they could reopen safely, only to have the rug pulled out from under them,” said NJBIA Vice President of Government Affairs Chris Emigholz. “This was a major investment, yet these restaurants were denied the opportunity to reap any return on it.

“Given the dire financial situation restaurants were in already, this lost investment could be a death blow for many,” he added. “This bill would provide a lifeline for some of these business and provide some working capital for these small businesses when indoor dining is finally approved.”

NJBIA and the New Jersey Business Coalition believe that all businesses should be allowed to open if they can meet the criteria for opening safely, with sufficient social distancing, use of personal protective equipment, and strict cleaning protocols.  The association reiterated that point earlier this week when the governor announced the reopening of health and fitness facilities beginning Sept. 1.

“NJBIA has consistently maintained that creating public health and economic health are not mutually exclusive,” said NJBIA President and CEO Michele Siekerka in a statement earlier this week. “Just as other business owners have reopened following state and federal safety guidelines, restaurants have deserved that same opportunity for too long.”