Getting New Jersey back to work and school safely after the COVID-19 pandemic winds down—and taking steps to prevent further statewide shutdowns—are the main goals of New Jersey Senate Republicans in coming weeks and months.
New Jersey, now in its second month of a near-lockdown state, is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the country, with about 100,000 reported cases and 5,000 virus-related deaths as of April 23.
While in recent days Gov. Phil Murphy has said officials the curve is starting to flatten, he urged residents to remain home and said non-essential businesses will remain closed.
On a state and national level, officials are debating how to resume a society that has been on an indefinite pause, pitting the need to flatten the curve of the potentially deadly virus against warding off a massive economic recession.
Senate Deputy Leader Robert Singer (R-30) said they want to restore “some sense of normalcy as soon as possible, while protecting people through well-funded disease prevention, surveillance and response efforts.”
“It’s the combination of these efforts that are necessary for New Jersey’s recovery to take off in a safe and sustainable manner,” Singer said.
Under the federal CARES Act, more than $7 billion will go to New Jersey, its various agencies and local government. Much of that funding is dedicated to specific agencies, like NJ Transit, or purposes, such as education, but the state will get a $3.4 billion block grant to support COVID-19 response and recovery.
Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean (R-21) said the GOP caucus is dedicated to helping New Jersey get through and past the COVID-19 crisis as quickly and safely as possible.
“We’re focused on promoting a sustainable economic recovery for families and businesses that have suffered tremendously,” Kean said. “We believe it’s critical that the billions in federal assistance that New Jersey is set to receive be dedicated to restarting New Jersey in a thoughtful and strategic manner that maximizes the value of every dollar spent.”
According to Sen. Steven Oroho (R-25), Senate Republican Budget Officer, there are “limitations in how federal block grants” can be used, but the state has a lot of discretion in how to prioritize funding.
Since New Jersey’s federal aid is “limited,” Oroho said the state should focus on getting “the biggest bang for the buck.”
Senate Republicans said they believe New Jersey’s $3.4 billion in block grant funding should focus on the following areas: business and non-profit recovery and safely reopen; to retain essential local government services and increase services directly related to COVID-19; and for state, schools, and local governments for COVID-19 detection and tracing.
Business & non-profit recovery
GOP Senators would use grant funding for businesses and non-profits through existing programs operated by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) that have run out of money. Funding should be used to expand grant eligibility and amounts as well.
Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-40) noted a pair of underfunded business assistance programs offered by the NJEDA run out of money almost immediately upon launching due to overwhelming demand.
“Without substantial new support in the very short term, many of those businesses won’t survive to see a reopening of the New Jersey economy, while adding to the hundreds of thousands New Jerseyans who already are out of work,” Corrado stated. “Preventing catastrophic business destruction in the short term and supporting efforts to regroup and rehire in the long term must be a focus of the state’s financial planning.”
Local government services
Republicans believe funding should be provided to counties and municipalities to help preserve essential programs and address new needs related to COVID-19.
Without new funding, GOP senators expect critical public health and safety services “will suffer” and “additional staff resources will not be available to open public buildings, libraries, beaches and parks in a safe manner.”
Extra funding to safely reopen
This funding would help businesses and non-profits incorporate best practices to safely reopen and operate, including establishing sound social distancing by restructuring ingress and egress; screening staff or patrons for COVID-19 symptoms; limiting occupancy though realignment; obtaining necessary personal protective equipment (PPE); and, providing for increased staffing to enhance cleaning and sanitation.
Republican Whip Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-26) said, “In addition to helping our businesses and non-profits to survive the lock down, we must take additional steps to ensure their ability to reopen in a manner that protects customers and employees and furthers our public health objectives.”
“Since they have suffered so much financially already, many organizations may struggle to afford the extra staffing, precautionary measures, and infrastructure changes they will need to reopen and operate safely,” Pennacchio said. “We don’t want those who cannot afford the necessary precautions to cut corners, which would put people at risk once again.”
Funding for COVID-19 detection and tracing
Funds could be used for personnel-intensive tracing efforts and the dissemination of high-speed COVID-19 testing or temperature-gauging devices, and PPE.
“Even after the current lockdowns pass and we begin to reopen society, we’ll have to respond to the continued existence of COVID-19 as a long-term health threat and remain vigilant to prevent large outbreaks,” said Senate Republican Deputy Whip Kip Bateman (R-16).