HILLSBOROUGH – At lunchtime today, Gov. Phl Murphy and some of the state’s fellow political heavyweights descended upon a brewery here for a press event in front of stacks of beer barrels and kegs.
What a great place to spend time “for a guy named Murphy,” cracked the governor, who often makes jokes about imbibing.
Today’s event outside the Flounder Brewing Co., however, was about politics and the pandemic, not day drinking.
Murphy and his “cavalcade,” as the governor likes to say, included Sen. Bob Menendez, Rep. Tom Malinowski, who represents the district (the 7th), Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.
The occasion was to announce that $100 million worth of federal relief funds under the CARES Act will go to helping small businesses – like Flounder – and people in need.
Specifically, $70 million will help small businesses with $35 million targeted toward the food service industry. Restaurants have been hard hit by the pandemic. Outdoor dining has been permitted since mid-June, but as the season changes, that becomes a chancy proposition. Indoor dining is limited to 25 percent capacity.
Some $10 million will be used to provide businesses with needed PPE or personal protection equipment. The remaining $20 million will go primarily for rental assistance.
As is the norm at such events, all six individuals assembled under a tarpaulin in the parking lot (social distancing was in place) spoke – basically saying the same thing.
Malinowski said events have shown that the CARES Act was “tragically necessary and successful.”
But he said more is needed. Congress has been debating another stimulus package, but its outlook is murky. The Republican Senate may not go along – at least until after the election – and the president has given mixed messages.
As the event went on under cloudy, but fortunately not rainy skies, Republican Tom H. Kean Jr., who is challenging Malinowski, dispatched a statement accusing the governor of “sitting on” COVID relief money.
“Today is no cause for a self-aggrandizing press conference,” the statement said.
Murphy reiterated in a chat with reporters after the formal event that the state has had to wait for guidance from the feds before spending the money.
Menendez said any additional funding has to include help for local governments. The senator has been pushing this idea for months to no avail, although he has lined up some support for it from Senate Republicans.
Just about the only bigwig not in attendance today was Sen. Cory Booker.
A member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Booker is in Washington for the Amy Coney Barrett hearings.
Menendez assured the very receptive audience of local and Somerset County Democratic leaders that Booker will do the state proud.