Editor’s note: The New Jersey Business Coalition, a collection of more than 100 business and nonprofit groups, submitted a letter to Governor Phil Murphy on August 11 outlining economic and public health reasons for the state to move ahead with the reopening of its economy. The “Executive Summary” from the letter follows:

On May 2, 2020, the New Jersey Business Coalition issued the “Recovery and Reinvention Framework” (www.njbia.org/recovery). The document was meant to be dynamic and updated as more was to be learned about COVID-19 and its impacts on our state.

We have learned a great deal about COVID-19 since its onset, its peak, and the long-term decline in positive cases, rate of transmission, deaths and hospitalizations. Of course, we recognize there is still more to learn. However, if “data determines dates” relative to reopening, as Governor Murphy has consistently said, it is appropriate that as our COVID-19 cases continue to go down, New Jersey’s economic numbers should rise.

Unfortunately, this is not the case and we find ourselves and our economy in an unnecessary and extenuated “pause mode”.

The Governor should be moving forward now to continue the reopening of our economy and this “Recovery and Reinvention Framework 2.0” explains why; incorporating and building upon the existing document, while calling for the following actions to take place now:

• Continue the reopening of New Jersey’s economy:

• The continuing trend in all of the numbers that the Governor has relied upon since the onset of COVID-19 warrant the continued safe and responsible reopening of New Jersey’s economy now;

• Take responsible risk, while we have decreased hospitalizations and capacity in our medical facilities. Businesses can balance hybrid models of indoor and outdoor activities while the weather is still nice. This was exactly the notion behind the direction of flattening the curve.

• Get people back to work. The indirect public health impacts being experienced by New Jersey residents warrants the continued safe and responsible reopening of New Jersey’s economy now.

• If the Governor does not continue to reopen the economy now, he must present plans for three COVID-19 scenarios (described below) to allow better visibility for proper business planning;

• Decisive action is needed immediately so businesses will know whether to plan for a further reopening now or a prolonged limit on their business, necessitating greater government support.

• In the absence of a full reopening, the Governor should embrace a regional approach to allow those counties in our state that have had sustained low COVID19 numbers to reopen further, if “hotspots” persist in other counties.

The letter concludes with a summary of actions that would be necessary should a prolonged shutdown continue:

If it is determined that there will continue to be a prolonged “pause mode,” state government needs to be decisive in taking action to support businesses in a more robust way than we have seen thus far. While the Governor has directed approximately $70M of CARES ACT money to meet business needs by way of grants, the amount falls considerably short of the need. The amount equates to approximately 4% of the full New Jersey Federal CARES ACT allocation, with a large majority of the balance still sitting unused on the sidelines.

Business owners are operating at a loss, whether open at 25% or not open at all. In a recent NJBIA survey, 65% of businesses said it will take them more than 10 months to get back to preCOVID revenue, with the majority saying it will be a year or more. Many others say they will never recover to that extent.

…We know that both grants and loans are needed. However, given the lack of appetite for loans as evidenced by the PPP money left on the table and the lack of demand for the Main Street program, grants are the answer. Regardless, any new programs must be easy to access and have allocated amounts that can meet the needs of a large portion of the business community.

While the recently announced New Jersey Redevelopment Authority rent assistance program places $6 million in “burdened communities,” the reality is that an overwhelming amount of businesses across the entire state have rent defaults occurring as we speak. The Governor shut down all businesses at the same time in the same manner. Choosing select towns now to receive the benefit of rental assistance exacerbates the losses elsewhere, especially when the determination of these “burdened communities” is questionable. This is a critical need across the spectrum and one that needs urgent attention with significantly more dollars for all businesses who are in arrears.

… Beyond new funding, businesses need a break from having to respond to new burdensome mandates. State government has imposed the massive mandate of closure on the business community to protect public health, and now it is time to avoid any other mandates as they struggle to reopen and recover. Now is certainly not the time to make it harder to operate a business in New Jersey when they are just hoping to survive.

In closing, if “data determines dates,” New Jersey is there. We are calling on the Governor to continue the reopening process now. We can safeguard our residents and further open our economy in unison. The extenuated “pause mode” we find ourselves and our economy in is unnecessary and not sustainable.

For the full letter visit www.njbia.org.

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