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Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government distributed funding to states to help cover the as-yet unknown costs of responding to the emergency. New Jersey received $2.4 billion for the effort, which was included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The question is, why isn’t the Murphy administration distributing the money?

During a town hall with Republican legislative leaders Tom Kean in the Senate and Jon Bramnick in the Assembly, NJBIA’s Chrissy Buteas said only $50 million of that money, less than 2% of the whole allocation, went to businesses in the form of new grant and loan programs run by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA).

“We would like to see a lot more of that CARES Act funding being utilized to get our small businesses back up and running,” Buteas said.

Kean said very little of the money has been spent, whether on business or other COVID-19-related expenses. He and others have asked the administration why and were told only that they would rather hold onto it for now.

“That’s an unacceptable answer,” Kean said. “We need to be able to get the money out on the street.

“Simply holding on to the money until the tail end of the year to try to fill a budget gap is not a responsible use of the money,” he said.

Last week, the governor vetoed a bill NJBIA supported that would have a created a $100 million program in EDA to help small businesses in the hard-hit hospitality sector, even though the money would have come from the CARES Act allocation and would not have impacted the state’s finances.

And there is clearly a need. The programs EDA has already created for small businesses ran out of money within hours of being launched.