NEWARK, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez today blasted Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and the Trump White House for their abject failure to respond to the extraordinary challenges facing millions of Americans, their families and communities as federal jobless benefits, eviction and foreclosure protections expire; state and local coffers run dry; and COVID-19 cases surge in many states.
At a press conference in Newark, Sen. Menendez outlined how communities and residents will be impacted if the federal government fails to provide additional resources to combat the pandemic and economic fallout. He was joined outside Newark City Hall by Mayor Ras Baraka, Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, State Senator Teresa Ruiz, Arnold Cohen from the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, and Rick Phillips, a New Jersey resident who will lose his enhanced unemployment benefit when it expires at the end of the week.
“The response by President Trump and the Republican majority in Washington to this historic pandemic and to the American people in crisis has been a miserable failure,” said Sen. Menendez. “And right now, while they dither and delay in confusion and chaos, a national emergency is raging. Renters across the country may face eviction at the end of the month. Millions of unemployed workers, who’ve relied on the $600 in additional federal support to get by each month, will soon get their last unemployment benefits check with that help. People are going hungry and families are losing their homes. And state and local governments are literally running out of money to operate.”
"While the first stimulus check was helpful, our residents need more assistance. COVID-19 and all of its implications are still here and are not leaving anytime soon," said Mayor Baraka. “Many of our residents are out of work, face food insecurities, are challenged with paying their rent, and we cannot turn our backs on anyone. Washington has bailed out corporations time after time, and it is time to provide relief to our communities with that same tenacity.”
“We’ve lost massive amounts of money in revenue. We get massive amounts of money from the State. If the State doesn’t get the money from the federal government, the State can only do one thing: cut funding for counties and municipalities. Which means, laying off people and raising taxes. If we do not receive that money, it’s not going to be pretty.” County Executive DiVincenzo said while advocating for the Sen. Menendez’s SMART Fund. “We did receive CARES Act money but it doesn’t pay for debts or revenue losses. It’s been very helpful as far as paying for testing, food distribution, rental assistance, and small businesses. If we do not get that money, tough decisions are going to be made and people will be hurt. It will not be a good thing for Essex County or Newark.”
“American governments were established to create safety nets, build bridges, and create opportunities of hope for individuals in need. COVID-19 has highlighted the ugly truth of systems that have not worked in years. The CARES funding that have been provided, while great help, doesn’t plug holes in revenue and still forces local levels of government to make decisions of cutting staff, cutting services, and making critical decions that will affect not only programming, but impact people,” said State Sen. Teresa Ruiz. “Sen. Menendez, once again, has stepped up, not to say ‘this is what New Jersey needs’ but to advocate and say ‘this is what human beings need in this time of crisis.”
“We’ve learned from this pandemic that the best way to fight it is to stay home. We know that housing is health care and health is housing,” said Arnold Cohen of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. “In order for people to stay in their home, we need the Senate to pass a package, which New Jersey’s senators have endorsed, which include $100 billion dollars in state rental assistance; $75 billion to stop foreclosures; $11 billion to house the homeless; and a one year moratorium on all foreclosures and evictions. The only way we’re going to be able to fight this is for people to be able to stay at home.”
“With New Jersey unemployment coupled with the federal PUA program, we’ve got a chance. With rent forbearance, we’ve got a chance. With mortgage forbearance, we’ve got a chance. A chance to hold on for our work to come back again, in some way, shape or form. But without all of these, we have no chance,” said Rick Phillips, an unemployed independent contractor from South Orange who has benefited from the expiring federal unemployment benefits and housing protections. “We need a continuation of these programs. We need them to survive. To survive as professionals, to survive as tradespeople, to survive as independent contractors; to survive as families.”
Sen. Menendez outlined several key New Jersey priorities he is fighting to include in any new stimulus that passes Congress, such as his bipartisan SMART Act that would deliver $500 billion in flexible funding to frontline states, counties and municipalities, prevent massive tax hikes, service cuts and the layoffs of first responders, teachers, nurses, public health and other essential workers.
“We need a comprehensive stimulus package that extends unemployment benefits—not cuts them—as Republicans are trying to do,” Sen. Menendez added. “We need greater housing protections for renters, homeowners and seniors to halt the impending storm of evictions and foreclosures. We need to address the stark reality that if you’re black or brown, you’re more likely to be infected or die from COVID-19.”
Sen. Menendez has been working to ensure robust state and local funding, protections for renters and homeowners, and extended federal unemployment benefits are included in the next COVID-19 relief package.
State and Local Funding:
In May, Sen. Menendez introduced the State and Municipal Assistance for Recovery and Transition (SMART) Act, a bipartisan, $500 billion bill that would deliver emergency funding to every state, county and community in the country, while prioritizing assistance to the areas with the greatest need. The SMART Fund falls in line with requests made by the National Governors Association and builds upon the existing $150 billion set aside in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help states and local governments. It increases flexibility for states and local governments to use the funds to plug revenue losses due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and targets additional funding toward coronavirus hot zones to combat the pandemic head-on.
Last week, Sen. Menendez introduced legislation that would ensure low and middle-income homebuyers have fair access to credit during the pandemic. He went to the Senate Floor earlier this month to highlight his $1.2 billion bill to ensure federally-assisted senior housing facilities have the necessary resources to protect residents during the pandemic, and his bill that would expand access to critical information and counseling to help homeowners avoid default, reduce debt, and protect their credit scores. He’s also called on the Trump Administration to enforce bans on housing evictions for the duration of the crisis.
The senator has cosponsored the Housing Assistance Fund to provide $75 billion in targeted assistance to keep people in their homes while they search for new employment or wait to get back to work by helping residents pay the mortgage, utilities, and support to prevent eviction, delinquency or foreclosure. He is also an original cosponsor of the Emergency Rental Assistance and Rental Market Stabilization Act, which would provide $100 billion to help families pay rent and help property owners maintain safe and healthy housing.
The Senator is pushing to extend the additional $600 in weekly federal unemployment benefits as businesses remain closed in New Jersey and across the country. Last month, Sen. Menendez called on the Trump Administration to address the impending unemployment crisis as the extended federal benefits before approaching this cliff. He also called for greater federal funding for states to update archaic unemployment systems. He pressed the Department of Labor to ensure every eligible worker receives the unemployment benefits they deserve.