Advocacy in Overdrive

How NJBIA’s Government Affairs Team Confronted the COVID-19 Crisis.

Sleepless nights. Untold hours of legislative study and review. Relentless efforts to persuade lawmakers to do right by New Jersey businesses. 

Typically, this is all in a day’s work for NJBIA’s Government Affairs team. 

But the historic damage inflicted on the state’s business community due to the coronavirus response has been anything but typical. And with that has come a historic NJBIA response in terms of urgency and unification with other groups to save New Jersey’s employers. 

“When the stakes are higher, you have to raise your game,” says Chrissy Buteas, NJBIA’s chief government affairs officer. “As this pandemic occurred, we were quick to understand that we were no longer lobbying just for a member’s prosperity. In many cases, it’s been about their survival.” 

From the outset, the team – comprised of Buteas, Vice Presidents Ray Cantor and Chris Emigholz, and Director of Economic Policy Research Nicole Sandelier – set on a course to both assist and protect businesses literally as the sky was falling. 

The GA team worked diligently with Gov. Phil Murphy’s staff to ensure that as many businesses as possible could safely be defined as essential. And for those businesses forced to shut down, the mission was to bring them as much quick relief as possible. 

That didn’t mean just understanding the federal Paycheck Protection Program – although Cantor did manage to comb through the 900-page program description in little more than a single Saturday. It meant coming up with impactful policies, many conceived by Emigholz and Buteas, and building a strong coalition of business and nonprofit groups to flesh out those ideas and bring a strength-in-numbers consensus to policymakers. 

Within a few short weeks, a New Jersey Business Coalition was 80 groups strong. 

“When you get that many associations together, not everyone is going to agree on every nuance of a policy,” Buteas adds. “But in this urgent time, we all maintained a constant theme – don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. Things have to move as quickly as possible.” 

On April 1, this coalition put forth a series of recommendations to bring relief to New Jersey job creators, all without impacting state revenues. Other recommendations were made for economic relief dependent on federal aid. 

Within weeks, four of those important recommendations were signed into law, while others were being drafted as bills. 

Later in the month, the coalition sent a letter strongly encouraging state policymakers to allocate more federal relief funding to NJEDA’s COVID-19 business recovery programs. It also urged New Jersey’s federal delegation to bring forth more funding for small businesses and made recommendations on how the federal loan programs can be improved. 

By late April, the group was well on its way to formulating and finalizing a recovery and reopening plan for New Jersey businesses, borrowing some from a Sandelier-authored Business Recovery Survey that yielded nearly 1,500 responses in less than five days. 

That recovery plan, which was conceived and had lead input from NJBIA President and CEO Michele Siekerka, had signatures from 80 business groups and was submitted to Gov. Murphy. At press time, it was anticipated that many of those concepts would be put to use in a state business recovery plan. 

“I can’t say enough about the tireless efforts of this team,” Siekerka says. “They know there are no victory laps in these extremely challenging times. They know their work can be thankless. New Jersey’s business community at large should know how much Chrissy, Chris, Ray and Nicole are working on its behalf – and they’ll stop at nothing to do what’s best to get to the other side of this.”

To access more business news, visit NJB News Now.

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