WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez today held a press conference call with mayors from across New Jersey to discuss his bipartisan bill that will provide much needed economic relief to states, counties and cities on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. The $500 billion fund answers the call of Governor Phil Murphy and local leaders for greater federal resources as they respond to the current public health and economic crisis, while facing budget shortfalls, revenue losses and potential layoffs and cuts in essential services.
New Jersey is the second hardest hit state in the nation, with over 130,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 8,200 deaths. All non-essential retail, schools, and entertainment businesses have been closed since March 16.
“As a former mayor myself, I can appreciate the unique challenges each of you are facing to both combat the COVID-19 outbreak and continue to serve your residents during these unprecedented times,” the senator said to the mayors on the press call.
“At a moment when their jobs have never mattered more, the reality is there may not be enough money to pay our police officers, firefighters, paramedics, teachers, or public health and sanitation workers,” the senator continued. “Mayors are grappling with the tough decisions of what and who will have to be cut. I recognize the challenge, and have already begun to work on a bipartisan solution that delivers robust, flexible federal funding to support our state and communities on the frontlines. Because they can’t do it alone. A national emergency requires a national response.”
The State and Municipal Aid for Recovery and Transition (SMART) Fund, co-authored by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), 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 expands eligibility to include counties and towns with populations of 50,000 or greater—the current threshold is 500,000—ensures every eligible entity receives additional funding, 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.
Joining Sen. Menendez on the call were Brick Township Mayor John Ducey, Cherry Hill Mayor Susan Shin Angulo, Galloway Mayor Jim Gorman, Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill, Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, Rahway Mayor Raymond Giacobbe and Wayne Mayor Chris Vergano.
“Prior to the pandemic, we were in the process of hiring 12 new police officers mostly due to retirements, but now, unfortunately, we are only able to hire one. Our police department has fewer officers than it’s had in many, many years,” Mayor Ducey said of the tough decisions he’s already had to make in order to reduce costs as revenue dry up. “Without seasonal and part-time employees, we will not have lifeguards [on the beach] or the people to take care of our parks and run summer camps.” And even then, the mayor spoke of possible furloughs and layoffs without federal funding help.
“It’s a scary time in Brick. But what’s being proposed is a common sense plan to get assistance to the boots on the ground and will help us continue to provide the services our residents deserve,” Mayor Ducey continued. “Both parties coming together is what’s required in these times.”
Paterson is one of the nation’s most densely populated cities with over 100,000 residents and it has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Passaic County. The city’s fiscal year ends June 30 and Mayor Sayegh said he’s worried about their lack of revenue over the past few months.
“I’m sure, like many of my other colleagues, we’re going to be looking seriously at layoffs, and at the very least, furloughs,” said Mayor Sayegh. “So, this bill, I encourage everyone to rally behind because it’s commonsense. And we cannot allow our cities to fail. They cannot fail because they are the backbone of our state.”
In neighboring Wayne Township, the budget was introduced in March, but the mayor has since recommended to the council not to adopt it because of their falling revenues. The township has had to put a hold on approved building projects and they’ve lost revenue from the courts, hotels and businesses.
“We aniticapte that our revenue steam loss alone will be between $850 and $950 thousand,” said Mayor Vergano. “We’re facing the unknown here. We don’t know when this is going to end. We don’t know how many people are going to be infected. We don’t know how people are going to pay their taxes if they’re not working. And on the same token, we have to keep our police department out there each and every day. So we have a tremendous expenses going on and at the same time the revenues aren’t coming in. So, I urge everyone to support this bill. It’s commonsense not just for New Jersey but for the rest of the United States together.”
Like other cities and towns across the state, Cherry Hill moved quickly to stem the spread of COVID-19, halting new construction and closing restaurants and commercial businesses – the backbone of the township’s economy. With many residents out of work and property taxes delayed as well, the mayor said they are facing “a significant revenue loss to our town.”
“This is an absolutely critical piece of legislation. The decisions we had to make to protect our residents were and are the right ones for our community, but they are not without consequences,” said Mayor Shin Angulo. “The revenue we collect helps pay for our first responders, police, firefighters and essential workers. It’s also critical in paying our teachers and maintaining our schools. Right now, we need help from the federal government. Sen. Menendez and Sen. Cassidy’s bill would provide the assistance we need. It’s a bipartisan, common sense plan I hope Congress will pass.”
Hoboken was one of the first cities in the state to shut down non-essential businesses due to the fast spread of COVID-19. Since then, the city has seen their parking revenue drop by 75 percent while other sources of revenue such as construction and court fees and hotel taxes dropped dramatically. The Mile-Square City has also spent millions of dollars for testing, senior nutrition programs and overtime for frontline workers.
“We are faced with a very difficult prospective option of drastically cutting areas where we need services – whether its police, fire, public works, frontlines workers – or imposing a tax increase upon residents in a very difficult economy. We do not want to furlough or layoff any more workers than we need to, but if we continue bleeding money then we’re concerned that is what the future holds,” said Mayor Bhalla. “Hoboken is doing our part and all we’re asking is that the federal government also do their part to make sure municipalities on the frontlines of this virus can continue staying afloat. It’s very refreshing that Sen. Menendez has reached across the aisle with Sen. Cassidy to acknowledge and recognize that we need to take a bottom-up approach but with top-down relief. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing here with a focus on municipal relief coming from the federal government.”
The city of New Brunswick has seen a reduction in water, sewer, parking, hotel and constutction fees and expects a shortfall of over $35 million. The city has already furloughed 225 hourly and seasonal employees and 46 salaried non-essential workers. They’ve suspended inter-city transportation systems and placed a freeze on all hiring, including the hiring of 30 essential personnel vacancies. Even with these cuts, the city is expecting to save only $4 million.
“This leaves a gap of about $30 million dollars which can only be addressed by severe and drastic cuts of essential personnel and services. Senator that’s why the bill sponsored by you and Senator Cassidy is critical to New Brunswick’s ability to maintain these essential services,” Mayor Cahill told the senator. “Your bill provides direct funding to munincipalities, like New Brunswick, as well as the flexibility to help plug the revenue losses that are directly related to the COVID-19 outbreak.”
Mayor Gorman talked about the one-two punch facing Galloway as its economy and its residents have been greatly impacted by both the closure of Atlantic City’s casinos and other businesses, as well as Stockton University. The city was hit hard during the 2008 Great Recession, and the Mayor spoke to his real concerns that this public health and economic crisis could again devastate their community, unless the federal government steps in with aid.
“In 2008, we led the country in foreclosures. We furloughed employees one day a week. We laid off police officers. We stopped investing in infrastructure and new public safety vehicles,” Mayor Gorman told the senator. “With that – I fully support your bill. I don’t want to relive 2008 and appreciate everything you’ve done.”
Rahway has experienced a renaissance in recent years with the redevelopment of their downtown, which created a bustling area for residents to shop and dine. And with easy access to public transit, many commuter families chose Rahway to settle. The city is estimating an anticipated revenue shortfall of at least $2.7 million.
“It was proof that Rahway’s vision was now reality,” Mayor Giacobbe said. “But because of the COVID-19 pandemic that vision we successfully achieved is no longer a reality. There’s no one on our streets or in our restaurants, or visiting town hall. The statewide lockdown, although necessary to reduce the spread, has crippled the city financially.”
“I urge the federal government to act immediately. Sen. Menendez’s bill will provide the assistance we need in the city of Rahway to stabilize the financial impact of the virus and to continue to provide the level of service and protection that all of our citizens in Rahway deserve from their elected officials. It is a bipartisan, commonsense plan. I encourage all of our mayor’s and members of Congress to support this bill,” Mayor Giacobbe concluded.
Specifically, the SMART Fund, which falls in line with requests made by the National Governors Association, would deliver funding to state and local governments, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia in three equal tranches based upon a new formula that takes into consideration areas of the country with the greatest need:
1) One-third to eligible entities based on population size to ensure they each receive additional federal resources to meet their growing needs (Same formula used to disburse the $150 billion state stabilization fund created in the CARES Act, but essentially doubles those available funds)
2) One-third to eligible entities based upon the number of COVID-19 cases relative to the U.S. population to target the urgent public health challenge
3) One-third to eligible entities based upon state revenue losses relative to pre-COVID-19 projections to target the urgent economic challenge.
This proposal builds upon the successes of the State Stabilization Fund in the CARES Act, championed by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.). The senators will continue working with him and the rest of their colleagues in the Senate to provide immediate and direct assistance to states and communities fighting this pandemic.
Since Sen. Menendez first announced his plans to introduce the bill last month, leaders across New Jersey have endorsed the bipartisan effort, including Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who publicly urged Congress to pass the “Menendez Bill” because without federal assistance the city may have to lay off employees and cut essential services such as police, fire and sanitation.
Earlier today, the New Jersey State Police Benevolent Association endorsed the Senator’s bill saying it “will ensure our towns and cities get the resources we desperately need to keep law enforcement on the job and in our neighborhoods.”
“Thank you to @SenatorMenendez for introducing a new bill devoting $500 billion to help states & cities pay their bills and serve their residents. State and local revenues are lower than ever, and we need federal help to continue providing services,” State Senator Vin Gopal tweeted.
“Unfortunately, as this pandemic rages on, the long-term effects that measures taken to protect public health have on governments are becoming clearer. Without assistance from the federal level, many local “governments nationwide will face enormous budgetary shortfalls because of unprecedented revenue loss,” said Camden County Freeholder Board Director Louis Cappelli, Jr. “The Freeholder Board is thankful that New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez is leading a bipartisan effort to ensure that states and local governments hit the hardest by coronavirus get the support they need. This bipartisan effort will provide vital resources for county government, and we are hopeful that it moves quickly through Congress so we can put our share of funding to action for the men and women we serve.”
“Please join me in thanking @SenatorMenendez @SenBillCassidy for his tremendous efforts and foresight in aiding our economy and providing us with a comprehensive rescue package,” Hudson County Freeholder Anthony Romano tweeted.
“There was no way to predict that Bergen County would be the hardest hit in New Jersey, but the swift and necessary actions Cliffside Park and the County took to protect the health and safety of our residents helped flatten the curve and save lives. Yet, the long-term economic impact has not been fully realized and is already straining our ability to provide residents with the essential services they depend upon,” said Cliffside Park Mayor Thomas Calabrese. “I fear, if we do not get the federal assistance we need, Cliffside Park and Bergen County will not be able to properly serve our residents and keep them safe, and only further delay our ability to return things to normal. I want to thank Senator Menendez for his continued leadership and for answering the call from local and state officials by spearheading a bipartisan plan to provide frontline communities with the federal resources we so desperately need.”
“I applaud Senator Menendez’s bipartisan proposal to establish a $500 billion fund to support state and local governments on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic. Both state and local governments across the country are spending a significant amount while experiencing declining revenues as a result of necessary measures taken to control the spread of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Hamilton Township Mayor Jeff Martin.
“For mayors like myself to continue protecting the health of our residents and fight COVID-19, we now need support from Congress and Senator Menendez is stepping up to fight for New Jersey in our toughest moment. Not only would his proposal bridge shortfalls, it would target the hardest hit areas, like New Jersey. I hope Congress considers Senator Menendez’s proposal in the next stimulus package to provide much needed relief.”
“Senator Menendez’s $500 billion bipartisan proposal to help state and local governments is exactly the bold framework required to stabilize our economy and enable municipalities, like Parsippany, to continue providing the critical services our residents depend on every day,” said Parsippany Mayor Michael Soriano. “Not only do we need additional funding to address the myriad of health and economic challenges, but we need increased flexibility, as outlined in Senator Menendez’s proposal, to make up for lost revenues. Without such flexibility, states and local governments will continue to be under enormous strain. I applaud the Senator for his leadership in reaching across the aisle during these difficult times, and I urge Congress to take action on making federal support of this nature available.”