With small businesses being forced to close rapidly as COVID-19 cases increase across the country, Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, who was the first in the U.S. to set a curfew and close bars, is calling on three of New Jersey federal lawmakers to help provide them with assistance.
“While I believe this decision will save lives, I also know that our small businesses and their employees are suffering. Business owners fear that an extended closure will make it difficult if not impossible to remain in business,” Bhalla wrote in a letter to U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-NJ), as well as U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-8), today.
“Their employees – many without benefits – don’t have the option of working from home, and they are fearful. We need the help and resources of the federal government now more than ever.”
Late this morning, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced that all schools in the state will face a mandatory closure as of tomorrow, while casinos, racetracks, theaters, and gyms are closed effectively immediately.
He’s also forcing all non-essential retail, recreational, and entertainment businesses by 8 p.m. and discouraging travel between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. Restaurants throughout the state are also limited to takeout, delivery, or drive-through operations.
Hoboken made national headlines when they announced a 10 p.m. curfew, closed bars, and limited restaurant activity late Saturday evening.
“We are in uncharted waters, trying to navigate through an unprecedented global crisis. What is clear is that this is a time where we must pursue bold solutions to give our businesses a fighting chance,” Bhalla also wrote, thanking the trio and their colleagues for passing an emergency relief package last week in response to COVID-19 outbreaks.
Menendez spokesman Steven Sandberg said that the senior senator has already been working on introducing a small business relief act that mirrors what U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (NY, D-7) introduced in the House.
The bill expands the definition of a disaster to include a communicable disease for which the federal government has issued a travel alert or warning, allowing small businesses who have been impacted by the coronavirus to access Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) of up $2 million to help meet financial obligations and operating expenses.
Additionally, the legislation would allow small business to access EIDLS “by adding a triggering event” that necessitates the loan which would be interest free.
This evening, Hudson County Democratic Organization Chair Amy DeGise, Hudson County GOP Chair Jose Arango, Hoboken Democratic Committee Chair Rachel Hodes, and Hoboken GOP Committee Chair Holly Lucyk sent a follow-up letter to the the federal representatives supporting Bhalla’s request.
“The COVID-19 pandemic presented our community with unprecedented challenges and our Mayor took proactive measures to protect the residents health and well-being,” they wrote.
“We support these efforts with a recognition of the significant toll this will take on our local small businesses and their employees. At every level, from owners to employees, this could be devastating.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated with new information.