By Assemblyman Roy Freiman
New Jersey is home to nearly 800,000 small businesses, which together employ roughly 1.8 million people and accounts for about half of our private workforce. That makes New Jersey’s small business industry too big to fail. Equipping them to navigate and weather the unprecedented, unforeseen challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, therefore, remains a critical goal as we look toward reopening and recovery.
At the outset of New Jersey’s declared public health and state of emergency, small businesses deemed essential were faced with paring down services and operations, and those considered non-essential with shutting down indefinitely. To create the economic safety net needed by so many suffering huge financial loss, I pushed for passage of legislation (A-3845) authorizing the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) to issue emergency grants as well as to extend or waive loan program deadlines.
This bill passed unanimously in the Legislature and was signed into law on March 20. It has allowed the EDA to provide financial relief under seven programs. Within these, a total of $43 million in grant and loan program aid was made available to directly help New Jersey small businesses. Initially, under the Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program over $5.4 million in grants were disbursed and under the Small Business Emergency Assistance Loan Program, $10 million in working capital loans was made available to businesses with less than $5 million in revenue.
In addition to state initiatives, the federal government and the U.S. Small Business Administration established the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which has since facilitated $16.9 billion in loan aid to reach New Jersey businesses. And, through Economic Injury Disaster Loans and Advances funded by Congressional appropriations, another $1.6 million has been disbursed to small businesses in need.
Unfortunately, many small businesses are still waiting in line. Working closely with stakeholders and listening to small business concerns, the asks have been clear: more cash assistance is needed via grants, and eligibility criteria for programs and for use of funds must be expanded.
The governor’s most recent commitment of $50 million to small businesses from federal CARES Act funding is evidence that the government recognizes the priority of our small business community. I applaud this allocation, of which the EDA has committed $5 million to businesses waitlisted in the first phase of emergency grant funding and $45 million toward a second phase. Already, $2.3 million has been approved to support 700 businesses impacted in the April backlog. Grants of up to $10,000 will also become available to a greater pool of businesses, home-based businesses and sole proprietorships being among those that will now able to benefit.
How New Jersey is prioritizing the short-term survival of local small businesses so it can see sustained long-term growth is an example to be followed. However, the near $100 million we’ve brought to bear to boost small businesses is just the beginning of our road back.
Continued advocacy by Governor Murphy and his administration, his successful bipartisan efforts with President Trump, Congress, and partnerships with private and corporate industry, have no doubt all been crucial components to securing the public assistance small businesses so desperately needs. To that end, under Speaker Craig Coughlin’s leadership, my Assembly colleagues and the Assembly bi-partisan Business Caucus remain committed to hearing small business concerns and putting forth legislative solutions. The work of the Speaker’s Economic Advisory Council will play a large role as we chart our path forward and out of this crisis.
As government, consumers, industry and ultimately, as a society we all have a part to play. Beyond maintaining and expanding relief programs, which continue to be of critical importance, we must as citizens do our part as well. Whatever that looks like for you, whether its ordering takeout from a local restaurant, buying a gift card, using social media to spread the word and share local finds, or giving a cash donation, every bit helps.
Days, months and years from now our economy will be defined by our actions to make businesses more resilient in challenging moments like this one. Helping small businesses survive is about helping New Jersey thrive.
This op-ed was published on NJ.com for the Star Ledger on June 3, 2020: https://www.nj.com/opinion/2020/06/njs-small-businesses-are-too-big-to-fail.html