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I want to ensure you have the latest information about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, its impact on our district, and my work in Congress to protect the safety and economic security of North Jersey workers and families amid this terrible crisis.
This week, I was glad to host a Telephone Town Hall with over 7,000 of our neighbors. This was our latest town hall on the COVID-19 crisis and my work in Congress to support struggling families, courageous front line workers, and our state and local governments.
Over the past several weeks, I have additionally have held multiple teleconferences with the Mayors of our district, health care providers, small business owners, police and fire leaders, and educators, and I have spoken to a great many constituents across our district's diverse 35 cities and towns to ensure North Jerseyans’ needs are met during this pandemic.
Outlook in New Jersey
Slowing the Spread: As of May 29, there are 157,815 confirmed cases and 11,401 deaths in our state, including approximately 23,115 cases in New Jersey's Ninth Congressional District. These statistics are tragic, but thanks to Governor Phil Murphy's swift action and the statewide stay-at-home order, as well as the efforts of New Jerseyans to practice social distancing, we have been flattening the curve. Since COVID-19 cases peaked in New Jersey in mid-April, statewide hospitalizations are down by 72%.
Social distancing is working and our collective sacrifice has saved countless lives. It is critical we continue to practice social distancing to further slow the spread of COVID-19. You should stay at home unless you are leaving for one of the reasons outlined in the statewide stay-at-home order like getting groceries, picking up takeout, seeking medical attention, exercising, or going to a park. If you are outside your home and around others, it is vital you wear a cloth face covering to protect yourself and those around you. Be sure to follow CDC guidelines for protecting yourself and others from the spread of COVID-19. Routine use of these measures can save your life and the lives of others.
Given the progress we have made, Governor Murphy has been gradually loosening restrictions on his stay-at-home order. Governor Murphy has re-opened beaches, charter fishing and watercraft rental businesses, and outdoor recreational businesses. Additionally, the Governor has lifted the limit on outdoor gatherings from 10 individuals to 25 individuals. And starting on July 6, outdoor graduation ceremonies with proper social distancing for graduating high school and college students will be allowed.
Voting: To ensure everyone is able to safety cast their vote in the upcoming July 7th Primary, Governor Murphy signed an executive order to create a modified vote-by-mail election. The order requires that each county’s elections officials send vote-by-mail ballots to all registered Democratic and Republican voters and send VBM ballot applications to unaffiliated and inactive voters. All VBM ballots and VBM ballot applications will come with pre-paid postage provided. Keep your eyes peeled: they should be arriving shortly.
Re-Opening the Economy: On May 18, Governor Murphy announced a multistage approach to responsibly put New Jersey on the path to re-opening the economy. We are currently in Stage One of that plan, with state and county parks, non-essential construction, curbside retail, drive-in activities, beaches, and elective surgeries all resuming. All New Jerseyans should continue to take precautions by wearing face coverings, practicing good hygiene, and social distancing.
Governor Murphy has followed through on his plan to reopen the state by implementing an Expanded Testing Capacity and Robust Contact Tracing Plan. This plan includes doubling our statewide testing capacity to at least 20,000 tests per day by the end of May and at least 25,000 tests by the end of June. Vulnerable populations, residents of long-term care facilities, and essential workers will be prioritized for tests. The plan will also utilize mobile testing units to directly serve communities of color, which have been disproportionately ravaged by COVID-19. Critically, the state is implementing a contact tracing plan to identify those who come into contact with individuals who have been infected by COVID-19. Contact tracing has been identified as a key mechanism to break the chain of transmission and slow community spread.
Unemployment: As of May 28, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development has dispersed more than $4.3 billion in unemployment benefits to more than 1.1 million people. The Department has also made $246 million in federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) payments. PUA is a new program authorized by Congress as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide unemployment benefits to workers not eligible for regular unemployment like independent contractors or gig workers. For more information about about PUA or unmployment benefits, please visit: myunemployment.nj.gov/
If you are experiencing issues receiving your owed unemployment benefits, please reach out to my office at 973-525-5152 for assistance.
Federal Support for New Jersey
Support for Small Businesses: The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) has announced a $50 million expansion of its Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program, which provides funding to small businesses facing financial challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The expanded program will provide grants of up to $10,000 to qualified businesses and relaxes eligibility criteria to include a broader variety of businesses as well as home-based businesses and sole proprietorships. These additional funds are available through the Coronavirus Relief Fund established under the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that Congress passed in late March.
For more information about this program, visit New Jersey's COVID-19 Business Informational page.
Support for Public Transit: Last week, I was glad to announce that the New Jersey Transit Corporation received a $1.4 billion federal grant to help sustain agency operations during the ongoing pandemic. This week, I announced more than $91.5 million in federal funding to fund replacement of the ancient Portal Bridge and make other upgrades to improve service along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. The Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River has been in decay for ages and this pandemic has only worsened the ability to provide any upkeep. This major award will help our state begin rebuilding our critical infrastructure.
Nutritional Assistance: Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients in New Jersey are now able to purchase groceries online through Amazon and participating Walmarts, ShopRites and The Fresh Grocers. This flexibility will help protect the program’s recipients amidst the COVID-19 outbreak in our state. In March, as the coronavirus started spreading throughout the state, I joined Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker in calling on the United States Department of Agriculture to admit New Jersey into this critical program.
To learn more, recipients can visit the Amazon or Walmart SNAP portals to register their Electronic Benefit Transit (EBT) card. Any Walmart, ShopRite or The Fresh Grocer that currently provides online shopping will also accept online ordering with SNAP benefits.
Testing for COVID-19
People with COVID-19 can exhibit a wide range of symptoms. According to the CDC, symptoms may include cough, fever, shortness of breath, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell. If you develop these symptoms, contact your primary care provider or make use of the following resources from the state:
- Use the COVID-19 Symptom Checker to determine whether you should seek testing or medical assistance: self.covid19.nj.gov/
- Call (General COVID-19 Questions): 2-1-1 (7am-11pm ET)
- Call (Clinical COVID-19 Questions): 1-800-962-1253 (24/7)
- Get Tested: Visit New Jersey's COVID-19 Test Site Finder
Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, patients will not have any out of pocket costs for COVID-19 tests from their insurance. Uninsured patients will be fully covered under a program funded by the New Jersey Department of Health and Human Services.
There are dozens of test sites open throughout our district, and finding the one closest to you is easy. Just visit New Jersey's COVID-19 Test Site Finder. Testing sites have various operating hours and requirements. Most require an appointment in advance. Some require proof of residency in New Jersey or a specific county or municipality. So, please verify hours and whether an appointment is required before going!
My office has updated our fact sheets to ensure workers, families, businesses, and health care providers know their options for relief:
- Hospitals and Health Care Providers Relief Fact Sheet
- The CARES Act allocated $100 billion for health care providers across the nation to respond to the outbreak, and the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act provided an additional $75 billion. As of May 1, New Jersey hospitals have received $2.77 billion in relief.
- Individuals and Families Relief Fact Sheet
- The CARES Act included $1,200 economic impact payments for most Americans to address the severe impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak on personal safety and financial security amid this crisis. As of May 22, the IRS has delivered 94 million of these payments to Americans, including over 3.9 million payments to New Jerseyans. Haven't received your check yet or have a question? The IRS has set up a hotline at 800-919-9835.
- Small and Medium Sized Business Relief Fact Sheet
- On April 23, Congress passed an additional $310 billion for the Paycheck Program Program and $50 billion in small business disaster loans. I was glad to support this critical legislation to ensure our neighborhood small businesses have the support they need, and I am committed to doing more for our state and local governments, hospitals, and first responders. As of May 16, American small businesses have received over $513.2 billion and New Jersey businesses have received over $16.9 billion in Paycheck Protection loans from this program.
Additonally, if you have recently lost health coverage due to job loss of yourself or a family member, you are eligible to enroll in quality, affordable health care through the Affordable Care Act. Go to healthcare.gov to enroll and learn more about qualifying life events that allow you to enroll outside of Open Enrollment.
We are facing a global pandemic, and ensuring the safety of all families from COVID-19 and its impact on day-to-day life is my top priority. You can always reach me and my staff in Washington at 202-225-5751 or New Jersey at 973-523-5152 for assistance or further guidance. Remember, my door is always open to you. We are all in this together.
Bill Pascrell Jr.
Member of Congress