VINELAND – Cape May County tourist communities that annually send about $550 million to Trenton are locked out of a New Jersey COVID-19 financial relief program that starts in August for small businesses, an irate state lawmaker said on Friday.
“I just really think that it’s somewhat discriminatory by zip code, in the first instance,” said Sen. Michael Testa Jr., who represents the 1st Legislative District in South Jersey. “And it’s simply not enough money.”
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The senator said Gov. Phil Murphy’s decision to set aside only $6 million for the new program is baffling. Small businesses are in trouble statewide and New Jersey has access to about $2.1 billion under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, he said.
“It’s a $6 million program while $2 billion in CARES Act money is still sitting there and has been sitting there for weeks on end, not being used for its intended purpose,” he said. “What I can’t fathom … is the governor continues to say we’re in such a state of ’emergency.’”
On Thursday, Murphy announced $6 million in federal CARES aid would be released in grants of up to $10,000 each. The money is to be used to satisfy lease payments on commercial properties.
“A stronger and fairer New Jersey starts from the bottom up,” Murphy said Thursday. “The Small Business Lease – Emergency Assistance Grant Program will infuse much needed funding into local economies by assisting both small businesses and the landlords that they rent from.”
Testa, whose district runs from the shore to the eastern half of Cumberland County, said the grant program should start out with at least $100 million to distribute.
As announced by the governor on Thursday, qualifying businesses have to be in one of 64 communities, which include Vineland, Millville, and Bridgeton in Cumberland County. The leased spaces also cannot be larger than 5,000 square feet.
“It’s certainly disappointing to me when Cape May County isn’t considered here, because I’ve got businesses here that are really being stressed and having a very difficult time,” said Gerald Thornton, freeholder director for Cape May County.
“There’s not one area here that is not being jeopardized, and many of these businesses are not going to make it,” Thornton said. “They’re simply going to go bankrupt. Many of them go from season to season every year. And this year, there’s not much a season.”
Thornton said Canadians are not able to come to Cape May this year because their government has closed the border due to the coronavirus pandemic. “That’s 7 or 8 percent of our total tourist business here in Cape May County,” he said.
Thornton said many Americans are cancelling visits over concern about quarantine rules, and that is having a serious impact. Tourism in the county normally is worth about $7 billion a year, he said.
Applications to the Small Business Lease Emergency Grant Assistance Program can be made starting August 10 to the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority, and awards are on a first-come basis.
The 64 communities were chosen based on the 1996 legislation that created the authority, according to the program website.
In South Jersey, the selected communities include Atlantic City, Bridgeton, Burlington City, Camden City, Glassboro, Gloucester City, Gloucester Township., Lawnside, Lindenwold, Millville, Monroe, Mount Holly, Pemberton, Pennsauken, Pleasantville City, Salem, Vineland, Willingboro, Winslow, and Woodbury.
Joe Smith is a N.E. Philly native transplanted to South Jersey more than 30 years ago. He is a former editor and current senior staff writer at The Daily Journal in Vineland. Have a news tip? Reach out at (856) 563-5252 or [email protected] or follow me on Twitter, @jpsmith-dj. Help support local journalism with a subscription to The Daily Journal.