NORTH BRUNSWICK, NJ – April Scelsa’s story mirrors those of thousands of small business owners whose nail salons, coffee houses and nutrition supplement boutiques wouldn’t have been able to re-open in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic without a little help.

Scelsa used money she got from the New Jersey Economic Development Agency (NJEDA) to purchase masks, gloves, disinfectant wipes, a touchless thermometer and other personal protection equipment that allowed her to safely reopen A-List Hair Studio on July 22.

So, this strip mall not far from the whoosh of traffic on Route 130 was a noisy but appropriate setting for Gov. Phil Murphy  to recently announce that an additional $15 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding has been made available to the NJEDA’s Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program.

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The money will assist entrepreneurs such as Scelsa and co-owner Anna Pluhowski who are struggling to keep their businesses going after they had to shut their doors as COVID-19 cases soared across the Garden State in the spring.

“COVID-19 is first and foremost a health crisis, but also a severe economic crisis, and nowhere is that more evident than in the State’s small business community,” Murphy said. “Throughout this crisis, small business owners have worked incredibly hard to adapt and protect public health while supporting their employees and families. We are committed to ensuring New Jersey’s vibrant small business community weathers this storm and emerges stronger. The additional funding announced today will support businesses as they continue to adapt to the ‘new normal’ we are living with now and lay the groundwork for a speedy and complete recovery.”

This is the third infusion of money to the program, after an initial installment of $5 million in April was followed by $50 million more.

Business owners with no more than 25 employees are eligible for a grant of up to $10,000.

More than 10,600 businesses have been approved for grants totaling more than $44 million.

But don’t bother sending in an application; NJEDA CEO Tim Sullivan said there was a backlog from the last round of grants, when the agency received 33,000 applications.

For those who have already applied, Tuesday’s announcement was good news – especially for minority- and women-owned businesses.

NJEDA has set aside one-third of the funding to support qualified businesses located areas identified in census information as residing in a New Jersey Opportunity Zone. Sullivan said targeting these census tracts will help to ensure funding goes to communities of color that have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

Carlos Medina, the president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said that his organization has been able to help about 300 of its members procure funding from the NJEDA and other agencies.

“These are members who already face a huge challenge,” Medina said. “It could be a language hurdle that they have to face. It could be that they’re first generation and don’t have a Rolodex that some other companies that have been in New Jersey for many generations have.