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NJ tourism dollars on tap, selling COVID-19 recovery

New Jersey has long sold its restaurants, beaches and parks as prime draws for tourism, but the state’s promotional campaigns could soon come with a pandemic twist, too.

A key state Senate committee has moved a bill to use a $25 million share of New Jersey’s remaining federal COVID-19 relief dollars to boost the state’s tourism industry, including by promoting the ongoing recovery from the pandemic.

“A significant increase in resources must be allocated to advertise and promote New Jersey’s travel and tourism industry to effectively communicate that the State’s tourism destinations are open, operational, and safe,” the bill says.

The effort to better support New Jersey’s tourism industry has wide backing from the state’s hard-hit business community, and it comes as New Jersey has still not recovered all the jobs that were lost to the health crisis since it began almost two years ago.

The proposed appropriation calls for using a portion of the federal dollars to boost tourism destinations across the state, including businesses that are closely linked to the tourism industry, such as restaurants and bars.

“This money is definitely needed,” said Chrissy Buteas, chief government affairs officer for the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, as she testified before lawmakers on Monday.

New Jersey received more than $6 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding earlier this year under the American Rescue Plan Act. But so far, Gov. Phil Murphy and lawmakers have set aside only about a third of those dollars for specific purposes, such as for rental assistance and to support revitalization of the child care industry. 

‘Strong and equitable’ recovery

Under federal law, the relief funding is supposed to support the public-health response to the pandemic and to lay the groundwork for a “strong and equitable” recovery from the economic downturn that was triggered by the health crisis.

In their calls to dedicate a portion of the remaining federal funds to support the tourism industry and promote the state’s recovery from the pandemic, New Jersey lawmakers have also highlighted the federal law’s emphasis on the recovery of the hospitality industry, which in New Jersey is closely tied to tourism.

According to Buteas, the tourism industry generated more than $5 billion in state and local tax revenue annually in New Jersey before the onset of the pandemic in early 2020. But that haul decreased by more than 20% during the health crisis, she said.

“We all know how critical the tourism industry is to the state of New Jersey,” Buteas said during her testimony before the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate in New Jersey has for months stayed higher than the national average, and the effort to better support the tourism industry, including at the state’s coastal destinations, is being viewed as a potential benefit for New Jersey’s broader economic recovery efforts.

Nearly one out of every 25 jobs in New Jersey is linked to the tourism industry, despite recent setbacks blamed on the pandemic, said Hilary Chebra, manager of government relations for the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey.

“I think that highlights the reason this industry is so crucial to New Jersey’s economy and the need to let folks know that we are back and open for business,” she said.

Under the proposed legislation, the state would allocate $5 million from its federal relief dollars specifically for marketing efforts. That money would be provided to the Department of State to “market all regions of the State,” according to the bill.

Bar, restaurant recovery

Another $20 million in federal funds would be devoted to “promoting industries and destinations” in New Jersey that have been impacted by the pandemic, such as bars and restaurants, according to the bill.

The measure cleared the Senate committee in a unanimous vote on Monday. It has already been passed by the full Assembly.

An original draft of the legislation called for using the state budget’s general fund to support the marketing effort, but it was eventually amended to change the source of the proposed appropriation to the federal dollars.

By law, New Jersey has until the end of 2024 to obligate the balance of its federal aid, and even longer to spend it.

The Murphy administration has established a website that is keeping a running tally of how much COVID-19 aid New Jersey has received from the federal government. The website also details how those dollars so far have been spent or allocated.

The administration has also been collecting written comments from the public on using the remaining American Rescue Plan Act funding. They can be sent to

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For all CCSNJ media inquiries, please contact:

Meredith K. Lorrilliere

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