NJ Politicians Try to Look Busy Amid Restaurant-crushing Paralysis

Menendez and Co.

Restaurants are in trouble. Hotels are in trouble. Everyone knows that.

An estimated 36 percent of New Jersey restaurants say they will probably close in 2021, according to the state’s restaurant and hospitality association. Hotels nationally are shedding on average 400 jobs an hour.

Describing the problem is easy; fixing it is hard.

The New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association seems to be trying at least.

The group convened a virtual session this morning with an impressive number of the state’s congressional representatives to dramatize the problem and the need for federal help.

“This is a clarion call,”  said Marilou Halvorsen, the association president.

The session attracted senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker and House members Josh Gottheimer, Andy Kim, Tom Malinowski, Mikie Sherrill and Chris Smith.

All took turns talking about the need for federal aid and the importance of New Jersey restaurants.

“Our restaurants are part of who we are,” observed Menendez, who went on to compliment the diverse cuisine offered by New Jersey restaurants.

That’s true, but as far as money is concerned, the bill “on the table” at the moment is a $908 billion relief package presented last week by Gottheimer and fellow members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group.

While that is the main option at the moment, the consensus seems to be that more money will be needed not merely for the hospitality industry, but for the whole economy.

Smith, the only Republican rep in the group, said any stimulus should be in the “trillion” dollar range.

Of course, even getting the more modest package through the Senate is a problem.

Booker said the stubborn resistance of Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, to a large-scale stimulus makes for a “difficult situation.”

Time is running short.

Congress is expected to begin its holiday recess at the end of next week. Malinowski said it would be “unconscionable” for Congress to leave Washington without a stimulus package, but it may happen.

If that does indeed occur, chances are nothing will happen until Joe Biden is sworn-in on Jan. 20.

That’s only about six weeks away but that could be a long six weeks for restaurants in need.

Sherrill noted the obvious, pointing out that cold weather renders outdoor dining just about impossible. And she had some specifics, saying that Lorenzo’s, a well-known restaurant in Woodland Park, has closed for good and that Jockey Hollow, a Morristown restaurant in the old Vail Mansion. has shut down temporarily.

Sherrill also mentioned that vaccines are on the way,

“We just have to get through the winter,” she said, trying to pierce the gloom.

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