NEWARK, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez today called for swift passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan making its way through Congress that will deliver billions for New Jersey to fight the pandemic, help struggling families and communities, and stimulate the economy.  The bill provides federal funding to ramp up vaccinations, increase last year’s stimulus checks to $2,000, extend unemployment benefits and housing protections, help schools reopen safely, support struggling restaurants and small businesses, and provide the state and every county and municipality with direct, flexible assistance to maintain services and keep essential workers on the job.

“We need bold action and fast,” said Sen. Menendez.  “People want to get back to their lives.  To me, that’s what this bill is about.  The American Rescue Plan is about rescuing the American way of life, so our children and grandchildren can learn in classrooms instead of on computer screens, so we can gather with loved ones instead of worrying about getting them sick, so that we can join hands in our houses of worship to uplift each other in prayer, and so that we can reconnect with each other and restore a sense of community and common purpose in towns and cities large and small across the nation.”

 


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The senator was joined during today’s virtual press conference by Woodland Park Mayor Keith Kazmark, who noted that the borough is currently running budget shortfalls, one-third of its residents have applied for unemployment benefits during the pandemic, vaccine supplies are low, schools need resources to open safely, and there’s increased need for rental, homeowner and small business assistance.  The community will benefit from the direct, flexible federal assistance contained in the bill that can be used to combat the pandemic and bolster critical services, such as the volunteer fire department.  the community Funding for state and local governments in the American Rescue Plan is based on Sen. Menendez’s bipartisan SMART Act.

“One of the most pressing issues that I’ve shared with Sen. Menendez is the shortfalls that have been experienced by our volunteer fire and EMS departments… They maintain their own buildings with 90% of their funding coming from donations, which has all but dried up due to the pandemic,” said Mayor Kazmark.  “So, any assistance that can be brought to our volunteer first responders, who have really gotten us through the height of this emergency.  We can’t let them down.  We have to continue to support them and make sure they are able to answer the call and thrive as volunteer emergency responders.”

Several constituents discussed how they have been financially impacted by the pandemic, including those who are relying on federal unemployment benefits, housing and food assistance, and support for small businesses.

“I had a great job that I gave up to start a new business with my family,” said Sal Berardi, owner of SalTown Deli in Woodland Park.  “Five months in and we got hit with the pandemic and we’ve been fighting ever since.  We try our best every single day just to keep the doors open.”  
 
“Both my husband and I caught COVID-19 last year.  I was hospitalized and on a ventilator for 63 days.  I’m still on oxygen and have trouble breathing.  My vocal cords are scarred making it difficult to speak.  And I’ve had to go to rehab to re-learn how to walk and use my limbs,” said Shivanthi Crawford, a registered nurse from East Orange who is still unable to work.  “My husband lost his job and now is at home with me as my full-time caretaker until I get better.  Thankfully, he’s able to collect unemployment benefits, but it’s our only income.  We have applied for rental assistance and, for the first time in our lives, we’ve qualified for food assistance through SNAP.  Before COVID-19, we both had good jobs and made a decent living.  We never thought we’d ever be in this position.”
 
“I am worried that my unemployment benefits will expire in just a few weeks if Congress doesn’t pass this legislation to extend them,” said Polina Price, an independent travel agent from Fort Lee who saw her business dry up when the pandemic hit.  “My partner is on social security disability, so the unemployment is our main source of income and I am the sole provider for my family.  I’m in this country for 40 years and I’ve never needed help—never.  I know I’m not alone and there are many others struggling to get by.”
 
“Before the pandemic, our business wasn’t just booming, it was thriving,” said Sylvia Lasalandra-Frodella, owner of H2Ocean, a seafood restaurant in Cedar Knolls.  “We need a lifeline.  If the pandemic were to end tomorrow, it’s going to be a long time before we and other struggling restaurants recover.  We’re going to need more help to stay open.”

Sen. Menendez is fighting to pass the American Rescue Plan, which extends several expiring COVID relief programs and currently includes the following provisions that are still being negotiated in Congress:

·       Stimulus Checks

o   $1400 direct payments to individuals making less than $75,000 or couples making less than $150,000, phased out to earners up to $100,000/$200,000

o   On top of $600 checks approved in December, fulfilling the promise of $2000 per person

o   Unlike previous rounds, adult dependents would be eligible for payments

o   Citizen spouses and children living in mixed-status families are also eligible

·       Unemployment Insurance (UI)

o   Emergency pandemic UI programs due to lapse Mar. 14 will be extended to Aug. 29.

o   $300 federal weekly enhanced benefit increased to $400

o   Freelancers, gig workers and independent contractors eligible

·       Vaccines/Testing

o   $14 billion for vaccines

o   $46 billion for testing, contact tracing and mitigation

o   $7.6 billion to hire 100,000 public health workers to administer vaccines and support the pandemic response

·       State/Local Assistance

o   $350 billion in direct, flexible aid to every state, county and municipal government to help cover increased costs and lost revenues due to the pandemic, while keeping essential public workers on the job and maintaining critical services for residents

·       Small Business Assistance

o   $25 billion targeted assistance for hard-hit restaurants, bars and eateries based on the RESTAURANT Act

o   $7.25 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and second-draw PPP loans

o   $15 billion for Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) advance grants

·       Schools/Child Care

o   $130 billion to safely reopen K-12 schools, upgrade ventilation systems, reduce class size, implement social distancing, purchase personal protective equipment (PPE), hire more staff and avoid teacher layoffs

o   $40 billion for higher education, requiring colleges to use half the money they receive to provide emergency financial aid for students

o   $39 billion to child care providers to pay staff, rent, purchase PPE and supplies, and help struggling families unable to pay the cost

o   $1 billion for Head Start

·       Housing Assistance

o   $19.1 billion for state and local rental and utility assistance programs to help low-income households and rental property owners

o   $10 billion for states to provide mortgage assistance

o   $4.5 billion for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

o   $500 million to a new water assistance program modeled after LIHEAP to help low-income families pay water bills

·       Nutrition Assistance

o   $880 million for the Special Nutrition Program for Woman, Infants and Children (WIC)

o   Extends 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program through Sept. 30

o   Extends the Pandemic EBT program that provides nutrition assistance funds in lieu of reduced-price and free meals for students during both the school year and the summer

·       Tax Credits

o   Expands Child Tax Credit (CTC) to $3,600 for each child under six and $3,000 for children under 18

§  fully refundable for low-income parents

§  families can receive monthly payments instead of annual lump sum

o   Largest expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for workers without children in over a decade

§  Nearly triples the maximum credit

§  Extends eligibility to more people

§  Minimum age to claim childless credit dropped to 19 from 25; upper age limit eliminated

·       Health Care

o   Enhances federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) premium tax credits for two years

o   Provides COBRA assistance for laid-off workers on employer plans capping premiums at 15% through September

o   Extends Medicaid coverage for women for 12 month postpartum

o   100% Medicaid coverage for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments with zero cost to patients and fully covers vaccines for one year after the COVID-19 public health emergency ends

o   $150 million for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program to provide staffing and services for in-home or virtual visits

o   $250 million for strike teams in skilled nursing facilities

o   $200 million for infection control in skilled nursing facilities

o   $25 billion to address health disparities and protect vulnerable populations

o   $4 billion for behavioral and mental health services

o   $13.5 billion for Veterans Affairs (VA) health care

o   $750 million for state veterans homes

·       Transportation

o   $30 billion for transit agencies, including $1 billion for the Capital Investment Grant (CIG) program that is funding replacement of the Portal Bridge

o   $1.5 billion for Amtrak, including $820 million for the Northeast Corridor (NEC)

o   $8 billion to support airport operations

o   $15 billion to support airline industry workers