ICYMI: Menendez & Sherrill: We can’t allow our towns, counties, state to go bankrupt. Congress needs to act.

ICYMI: Menendez & Sherrill: We can’t allow our towns, counties, state to go bankrupt. Congress needs to act.


NEWARK, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill (N.J.-11) penned the following op-ed published in today’s Newark Star-Ledger and Trenton Times, and on nj.com.  They are the chief Senate and House sponsors of the bipartisan State and Municipal Assistance for Recovery and Transition (SMART) Act that would deliver $500 billion in direct, flexible funding to frontline state and local governments to help fight COVID-19 and the economic fallout due to the pandemic:

Menendez & Sherrill: We can’t allow our towns, counties, state to go bankrupt. Congress needs to act.

By Bob Menendez and Mikie Sherrill

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to roil our state. And while the actions taken by Gov. Phil Murphy — and every New Jerseyan — to flatten the curve are working, to date we’ve lost more than 11,000 of our friends, family and neighbors to this virus, and thousands more remain sick.

Countless medical and healthcare professionals remain on the frontlines in our fight to defeat the coronavirus. Grocery store clerks, pharmacy, warehouse employees, transit workers, and others are putting their own health at risk to keep medicine and food supply chains running and to ensure essential employees get to their jobs.

Over a million hardworking New Jerseyans have filed for unemployment. More than 125,000 small businesses across the state have applied for the Paycheck Protection Program and millions of families remain sequestered in their homes.

But the social distancing measures we’ve all had to endure to flatten the curve, contain the pandemic and protect our health care system from being overrun have created enormous economic hardship. COVID-19 has taken not only a personal toll on New Jerseyans, it is also creating an economic burden that, if we fail to act, will affect communities and families for generations to come.

Our state and local governments have gone to extraordinary lengths to respond to the public health emergency – setting up testing sites, acquiring personal protective equipment, expanding contact tracing, transitioning our schools to remote learning – all to support our communities.

With each passing day, our state, counties, cities and towns lose more of the tax revenue they depend on to provide residents with the essential services that make New Jersey such a great place to live and work. Sales tax revenue has plummeted with consumers staying home. Highway tolls, bus and train fares, even parking meter collections are down with more teleworking and fewer traveling. And with so many of our residents out of work, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for New Jersey families and small businesses to pay income and property taxes.

As a result, communities across our state are forced to make difficult decisions about whether to lay off police officers, firefighters and teachers, to close libraries and parks, or to halt trash pick-up and road maintenance. Without bold federal action, we will have another devastating crisis developing in our state.

Despite what some in Washington might think, we can’t allow our state, counties, and towns to go bankrupt. We deserve a better federal response.

Our bipartisan legislation will provide New Jersey with the support it needs to battle COVID-19 and avoid mass layoffs, significant property tax increases, and cuts to essential services. The State and Municipal Assistance for Recovery and Transition (SMART) Fund will deliver desperately needed resources to frontline state and local governments across the country, while prioritizing the areas hit hardest by the virus and economic fallout.

In March, Congress provided $150 billion for states, large cities, and counties with populations above 500,000 in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, but it didn’t go far enough nor provide the necessary flexibility.

Moreover, funding in the CARES Act failed to recognize the reality on the ground that some states and communities have unfortunately been hit harder than others. New Jersey only received 2% of the available funds despite having more than 10% of the nation’s COVID-19 cases, which required the state to slow the spread by closing non-essential businesses more quickly than most. The SMART Fund corrects that injustice.

In response, the SMART Fund provides an additional $500 billion in state and local aid, delivering on the bipartisan request from the National Governors Association. And every state, county and municipality in the country will qualify for direct assistance. That ensures New Jersey’s smaller counties and towns won’t be left out.

The formula for distributing the federal funds is equally important. The SMART Fund doesn’t rely on population alone. Instead, it rightly factors in infection rates and revenue losses to ensure the hardest-hit states, like New Jersey, get their fair share.

New Jersey and the Northeast region drive one-fifth of the entire U.S. economy. We always step up to help our fellow Americans during times of crisis, and now it’s time for the federal government to support us when we need it most. The SMART Fund makes sure those hard-earned tax dollars come back to our state at this critical juncture.

When times are tough, New Jerseyans know how to stick together. We have seen during this pandemic the bravery, fortitude, and Jersey grit that define our state. We are working together with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to secure our future so that together, we can get through this crisis and proudly remain Jersey strong.



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