Though the health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic is still rising, some attention is being paid to what happens when it subsides and restrictions on the economy begin being lifted.

State Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, said a business advocate needs to be specifically designated in the Governor’s Office who has decision-making authority to act on the economic side of the crisis.

“The public health, safety and welfare is clearly the governor’s most important task right now, and he’s working on that,” Bucco said. “But at the same time, we need to have someone in the administration that can look at the economic side of this crisis and begin to work on how we’re going to move forward. That planning cannot start early enough.”

Bucco said the state Economic Development Authority has been doing “a great job” responding to the pandemic but suggests that Murphy assign the position to Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver.

“There’s all these little segments of the economy that we could start to address. And in order to do that and do it properly, I think, we need somebody in the front office that has that decision making authority that can begin to look at this and working with the entire administration to start implementing what we need to do to get this economy started again,” Bucco said.

“All of those things take time and energy and quite frankly guidelines to make sure that while we’re opening these businesses, we’re doing it safely and protecting the employees and the customers,” he said.

Murphy said last week that such things are beginning to be considered, though he said he hasn’t decided yet who’s in charge.

“We’re going to have, off to the side as they used to say a skunkworks team beginning now to look at exactly what it looks like and what’s going to be required in advance to begin to turn the lights on again whenever that may come,” Murphy said.

“We’ve got a team that is focused 1000%, as you can imagine. You know, the house is on fire right now; our job is to put the fire out,” he said. “But when we begin, how we begin, when we begin, what does it look like in a fair amount of detail to begin to get back on our feet. That’s a group over there that we’re sort of putting over there and asking them to begin work on that.”

The first of the EDA’s pandemic-response programs launched Friday and was, as predicted, quickly swamped.

The EDA allocated $5 million to provide grants of up to $5,000 to businesses with 10 employees or fewer. The grants will equal $1,000 per employee, capped at $5,000. There is enough money for a few thousand grants – and by 10:16 a.m., 76 minutes after the window opened, there already had been 10,000 applications. As of midday Sunday, there were about 26,000 applications.

“We were expecting that to be oversubscribed. I don’t think even in our wildest imagination did we think it would go as quickly as it has,” Sullivan said.

The grants will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, with awards expected to made early this week and electronic transfers to recipients by the end of this week. Any eligible grant applications that aren’t funded will be put on a waiting list and be in line if the program receives federal funds.

Applications will be available Monday for the EDA’s next COVID-19 program: 10-year loans of up to $100,000, interest free for five years, to businesses with up to $5 million in annual revenues. Those applications can be submitted beginning Monday, April 13.

“We like the model of giving the application out in advance,” Sullivan said. “They’re not overly complicated but they’re not as simple as a grant application. Let folks get their ducks in a row, get their paperwork together and have that application be ready on April 13th.”

Murphy said the state programs are a helpful step but that federal funds and programs will be crucial.

“I think we’re doing as much and I think we’re as proactive and as innovative as any American state through the Economic Development Authority but there’s no amount of money that we have that can come close to making folks whole and allowing them to get back on their feet again,” Murphy said.

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