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Lawmakers approve $30M plan to reimburse N.J. restaurants hit by extended dining restrictions

The state Legislature voted Thursday to spend $30 million to reimburse New Jersey restaurants that lost money when Gov. Phil Murphy pulled the plug on the planned reopening of indoor dining this summer.

Murphy announced indoor dining could resume July 2 at 25% capacity as part of the state’s second stage of its reopening during the pandemic. But the governor reversed course a few days ahead of the reopening, saying bar and restaurant crowds elsewhere in the U.S. were driving up coronavirus cases.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, who sponsored the bill, said restaurants relied on Murphy’s reopening plan when they hired staff and purchased food and safety equipment, and the state ought to help them recoup their losses.

“There were many restaurants that spent a lot of money getting ready to reopen and unfortunately they were unable to open,” he said in a statement. “Hopefully, this will support our restaurant industry. This is a bipartisan effort to keep them afloat during this difficult period of time.”

The bill (S2704) would provide $30 million in loans or grants to restaurants harmed by the rescinded reopening, funded by the state’s federal CARES Act aid.

Bramnick has said there’s no estimate of how much money these businesses put out, but the $30 million is “a good start.”

The Senate voted for the bill 38-0 and the Assembly 77-0.

Restaurants reopened for outdoor dining in June, after months of takeout and delivery services only. Their owners have pleaded for even limited indoor dining, saying takeout and outdoor dining alone could not sustain their businesses.

Indoor dining remains off limits, but Murphy said Wednesday he hopes permit some indoor dining at bars and restaurants by the middle of next month as coronavirus numbers continue to improve.

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Samantha Marcus may be reached at smarcus@njadvancemedia.com.