Small businesses that have struggled during the coronavirus pandemic in a few dozen New Jersey cities can apply to receive up to $ 10,000 in federal funding to help pay their rent under a new Gov program. Phil murphy announced Thursday.

The Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program will provide $ 6 million in federal CARES funding to eligible small businesses by 64 of the 565 municipalities in the Garden State – many of which are urban communities with “special challenges,” Murphy said.

The governor said the move was aimed not only at helping businesses but also landowners who collect rents, both of whom were hit during the crisis.

Officials stressed that this is a grant, not a loan, which means those who receive it will not have to repay it.

“COVID-19 has turned our economy upside down in a way that has only happened twice in our state’s history – the Great Depression in the 1920s and 1930s and the Civil War,” Murphy said during a press conference in Long Branch. “We will not let COVID-19 bring us down. “

“But we can’t get to where we need to be and where we know we will be without the women and men who own and operate the small businesses that turn a municipality into a community and turn a street into a place of gathering. for this community, ”he added.

The program, officially called the Small Business Lease-Emergency Assistance Grant Program, will be administered by the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority.

The 64 municipalities eligible under the plan are those covered by the Authority, which helps fund redevelopment projects in largely urban communities across New Jersey.

Murphy said many are “urban centers and historic towns that have worked hard to re-energize and redefine themselves.”

Grants will be available to tenants who rent commercial space in mixed-use buildings, to tenants renting space in commercial buildings, and to tenants renting space to operate a storefront business.

The target will be businesses with 5,000 square feet of leased space or less.

Applications will be open from August 10 and funds will be awarded on a first come, first served basis.

“We need our local economies to recover from this crisis and come out strong on the other side,” said the lieutenant governor. Sheila olivier said during Thursday’s event. “But we can only expect this to happen if we direct programs and funding toward solving the individual problems that hold back local businesses.”

New Jersey, one of the states hardest hit by the pandemic, has seen its economy severely damaged in the past five months. Over 1.4 million people have applied for unemployment and many companies have lost untold revenues as a result of business restrictions and closures ordered by Murphy in March.

On Wednesday, Murphy said the state’s Economic Development Authority has committed $ 100 million in federal coronavirus aid to help more than 20,000 small businesses in Garden State.

But many companies say they still need help. And Thursday’s announcement came the same day NJ Spotlight released a report examine how the state only distributed 3% of the nearly $ 2.4 billion in aid it received from the federal government under the CARES Act.

Some Republicans have criticized Murphy, a Democrat, for not distributing more funds.

“He wastes billions on his own ends while acting as if the crumbs he is distributing out of his benevolence will save New Jersey,” Senator Michael Doherty, R-Warren said Thursday.

Doherty said even the new rental assistance program is being implemented “in such a tight way that most of New Jersey will see no benefit.”

State Senator Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, warned Thursday that many businesses would shut down permanently if Murphy did not allow indoor dining or no longer distribute federal aid.

“It would be a huge and unnecessary loss to the communities of New Jersey,” said Bucco.

Murphy has gradually lifted foreclosure orders and business closures as the state’s outbreak has slowed in recent months. But the governor earlier this month suspended the state’s multi-phase reopening plan in stage 2 as cases increase in other states and New Jersey has seen its transmission rate rebound. Many businesses remain closed, including gyms, cinemas and indoor dining areas in bars and restaurants.

Murphy has argued that his lockdown orders have been crucial in saving lives, while Republicans have repeatedly accused him of rolling back restrictions too slowly and making arbitrary decisions that have stifled small businesses.

The governor has has also repeatedly pleaded with the federal government to approve more aid against coronaviruses, help small businesses and bolster the budgets of states that have drained tax revenues due to restrictions and business closures. He said there could be massive layoffs of public workers without more federal money.

CORONAVIRUS RESOURCES: Live map tracker | Newsletter | Home page

Tuesday, the former governor. Chris Christie, a Republican, accused Murphy, a Democrat, of not doing enough to help these companies during the pandemic, while fighting for public workers.

“In the end, it wasn’t a shared sacrifice,” Christie said.

Murphy retaliated Wednesday, claiming that “public sector workers have been crushed under” Christie.

New Jersey reported Thursday 23 additional deaths attributed to COVID-19 and 344 other positive tests.

The state has now reported 15,730 deaths – 13,810 confirmed and 1,920 considered probable – with 177,887 confirmed cases since its first case was announced on March 4.

Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today at NJ.com.

Brent Johnson can be reached at [email protected].