Sen. Bob Menendez’s bill providing hundreds of billions in new funding to local and state governments hit hard by the spread of COVID-19 was submitted to both legislative branches in Washington.
Under the bill introduced May 18, every state, county, municipality and territory in the U.S. can qualify for federal assistance through the State and Municipal Assistance for Recovery and Transition (SMART) Fund. Priority would be given to areas on the frontline of the pandemic.
The bill provides $500 billion in emergency funding, on top of the $150 billion already passed in March by Congress as part of a $3 trillion stimulus package, and can be used to help cover rising costs to combat the virus and lost revenues due to the economic slowdown.
Sherrill, Gottheimer Sponsors
The bill is being sponsored by Menendez and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) in the Senate and New Jersey Reps. Josh Gottheimer and Mikie Sherrill in the House of Representatives.
The proposal was drafted in response to concerns raised by local and state leaders, including Gov. Phil Murphy, regarding budget holes, essential service cuts, potential layoffs and revenue shortfalls.
In a press release, Menendez called it a “commonsense, reasonable and bipartisan approach” to help states and communities “defeat COVID-19, maintain critical services, avoid mass layoffs and tax increases, and expedite our economic recovery.”
“In the midst of a national emergency, the federal government cannot sit on its hands and watch our communities go bankrupt and our people suffer,” Menendez said. “This isn’t a blue state or red state issue—this is an American issue—and it requires a national response.”
First unveiled in April by Menendez and Cassidy, the bill has won support in New Jersey from Murphy, mayors, freeholders, unions, like the New Jersey State Police Benevolent Association, and national groups such as the National Governors Association.
Menendez recently spoke with New Jersey mayors in hard-hit communities, such as Wayne, Paterson, Hoboken and Newark, about the difficulties they are facing at the local level due to rising costs to respond to the pandemic and dramatic drops in revenue.
“I recognize the challenge,” he told the mayors during a May 5 conference call and went on to assure them he’s working on a “bipartisan solution that delivers robust, flexible federal funding to support our state and communities on the frontline.”
“A national emergency requires a national response,” the senator told them.
Sponsors of the bill in the Senate include Sens. Cory Booker, Joe Manchin (D-WV), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) and Susan Collins (R-ME), who Menendez said represent a cross-section of the country’s broad political spectrum, have signed on as original cosponsors
Booker said the proposal will help states, counties and towns begin recovering from the pandemic and stave off “deep cuts” to public services, such as lay-offs of essential workers “at a time when they’re needed the most.”
In the House, Sherrill called the legislation “an important, bipartisan step toward getting towns, counties, and states the resources they need to keep their residents safe.”
Gottheimer, in a statement, said he’s “fighting to get federal resources back to each county and community in hard-hit North Jersey – the eye of the COVID-19 storm.”
“It’s Congress’ responsibility to help the hardest-hit communities. No excuses from the Moocher States. This new bipartisan, bicameral bill puts country first,” he said.
As of May 19, New Jersey has the most coronavirus cases in the nation, second only to New York, with 149,013 infected and 10,586 deaths.
According to the bill, funding can be used to help governments cover current COVID-19-related expenses and assist communities “transition towards reopening” by expanding testing and contact tracing and granting additional resources to residents, hospitals, small businesses and schools.
After a $16 billion set-aside for Native American tribal governments, the remaining funding would be allocated as follows:
- One-third based on population size to ensure governments receive additional federal resources to meet growing needs.
- One-third based on the number of COVID-19 cases relatives to population to help target the public health emergency.
- One-third based on state revenue losses prior to the outbreak to help address the current economic challenges.