Senate Moves to Let Towns Go Deeper in Debt to Weather Pandemic Crisis

JOHN REITMEYER | JULY 29, 2020

NJ Spotlight

The bill would allow local governments to borrow as COVID-19 hedge.

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New Jersey’s local governments could borrow money to help offset revenue losses during the coronavirus pandemic under a bill that’s progressing despite concerns among some lawmakers about oversight and the potential for abuse.

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee passed the local-borrowing measure Tuesday, putting it on course to win final approval from the Democratic-controlled Legislature on Thursday.

The bill’s advancement comes just weeks after lawmakers approved another borrowing measure that gives the state the preliminary authority to issue up to $9.9 billion in new debt to offset its own revenue losses.

But some lawmakers have raised concerns that the current draft of the local-borrowing bill would allow too much debt to be issued without direct state oversight. It’s also unclear right now whether Gov. Phil Murphy will sign it.

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Crunch Time for Bill to Avert Feared Surge in NJ Evictions as Landlords Push Back

JON HURDLE | JULY 28, 2020 

NJ Spotlight

 

New Jersey housing advocates are pressing state lawmakers for final approval this week of a bill that would extend protections against evictions of renters and homeowners who are unable to make payments because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amid some predictions of a surge in evictions as the $600-a-week extra federal jobless benefit comes to an end on July 31, and with the expiration last Friday of a national ban on evictions from federal properties, the bill would require mortgage lenders to offer forbearance agreements to borrowers in need for at least 90 days if their income and savings are below specified levels.

Courts would be allowed to order a mortgage lender to retract any negative credit-reporting filing for nonpayment of rent, and to fine landlords up to $5,000 per tenant for violations.

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New Jersey residents shouldn’t have to pick between paying for medicine or their energy bill | Opinion

Posted Jul 27, 2020

By Cheryl Stowell

 

As New Jersey begins the process of re-opening due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are starting to recognize the unavoidable economic challenges many of our residents will undoubtedly face. In addition to being a major public health threat, the coronavirus has brought an unprecedented economic crisis and recession, wreaking havoc on all parts of the state. Data released by the New Jersey Department of Labor shows that since the COVID-19 pandemic began, 1.4 million jobless claims have been filed and the state’s unemployment rate has reached historic levels of 16.2%.

In these uncertain, unstable times, it is critically important that individuals and families experiencing financial difficulties have the appropriate resources they can turn to in their times of need.

It has long been recognized that low- and moderate-income communities struggle disproportionately in dealing with energy costs. According to the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Residential Consumption Survey, one in three U.S. households face challenges when paying energy bills or adequately heating or cooling their homes. One in five forgo necessities like food and medicine to pay energy bills, forcing difficult tradeoffs that impact the household’s well-being.

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Baraka and Menendez Fight Back Amid Trump’s ‘Global Embarrassment’

By Fred Snowflack | July 27, 2020

Insider NJ

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka

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NEWARK – Phil Murphy likes to say – and he said it again today – that during a pandemic he cares nothing about politics. As proof, he offered up how he’s worked well regarding beach behavior with local Republican officials along the Jersey Shore.

That could be, but as we heard elsewhere around the state today, you really can’t separate partisan politics from the pandemic.

Ras Baraka, the mayor of Newark, and Sen. Bob Menendez joined other Democratic officials today on what has become a common demand of late – state and local governments need federal help. And so far, it’s not coming.

Menendez, particularly, has held numerous press events – some via Zoom – to make the case for including funds for states and towns in the next COVID-19 relief bill. While today actually may have been more suitable for Zoom, the senator’s party opted instead for an outdoor event in 90-plus degree weather on the steps of City Hall.

The need is apparent.

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Plans in the Works to Increase Capacity of NJ’s Contact-Tracing Corps

LILO H. STAINTON | JULY 28, 2020

NJ Spotlight

Gov. Phil Murphy has said a big concern is house parties involving crowds of young people.

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With nearly 90 new COVID-19 cases linked to young people who attended house parties at several Jersey Shore communities — and the potential exposure of hundreds more — state officials continue to encourage people to get tested and cooperate with contact tracers.

New Jersey officials have also taken steps to further strengthen the state’s capacity to perform tests and contact tracing, which public health officials use to reduce the spread of disease. While hospitalizations have continued to decline since COVID-19 peaked here in April, new cases spiked over the weekend — something officials attributed to a glitch in lab reporting — and the transmission rate, or RT, ticked up from 0.84 reported on Friday to 1.09 reported Monday.

Last week the state Department of Health announced it has hired a Boston-based consulting company to beef up the contact-tracing workforce, although details of the deal were not immediately available.  Officials indicated that New Jersey currently has nearly 1,100 public health professionals working in this capacity (counting new hires), the majority of whom have been on the job for months with local health departments.

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We’re not ready to reopen schools. Here’s what Murphy can do | Editorial

Posted Jul 26, 2020

The head of the state’s largest teacher’s union is right to fire a warning flare in Trenton: Right now, we’re not close to being ready to reopen schools in New Jersey.

Some districts may be well prepared to offer in-person classes, but plenty of others are not. “It’s just not possible for some districts,” New Jersey Education Association President Marie Blistan says, “and allowances are going to have to be made.”

This is a coming, real dilemma that we haven’t fully faced. If we don’t use the month of August to get ready and offer reassurances, we can’t blame teachers and kids who don’t want to participate. Done wrong, this could be dangerous.

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If you Buy Gas in New Jersey, You Might be Paying More Before Long. Here’s Why

JOHN REITMEYER | JULY 27, 2020

NJ Spotlight

If there is a gas-tax increase this year, it would go into effect on Oct. 1.

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New Jersey motorists should know within a matter of weeks whether they are going to get hit with a gas-tax increase later this year.

Some of the state’s top public-finance officials are required to meet by the middle of next month to discuss the current pace of gas-tax collections. And, if they detect a significant shortfall, a rate hike could be announced by the end of August.

The last increase came in 2018, and the latest tax-collection reports from the Department of Treasury don’t offer motorists much hope of a reprieve as revenues have been lagging last year’s totals nearly across the board, including when it comes to fuel taxes.

Treasury officials say they are “still analyzing the data” and that no final decision has been made.

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Rutgers to lay off 62 mental health workers amid coronavirus budget crunch

Posted Jul 25, 2020

Marsha Escalliere learned she would be laid off from her job as a children’s counselor at Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care in Essex County about three months after her father died from the coronavirus.

“I had to work with the community and children in crisis and then I also had to deal with my own crisis with my dad passing in April,” said Escalliere, who responds to the homes of children and young adults if they’re experiencing a mental health episode. “And now to receive a layoff notice at this time, it’s disappointing.”

She is one of the dozens of mental health employees the Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE) union says received notices Thursday informing them their last day of work would be Aug. 22. Rutgers says they are eliminating 62 University Behavioral Health Care employees due to an anticipated $260 million shortfall caused by COVID-19.

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FEMA Sends Faulty Protective Gear to Nursing Homes Battling Virus

By 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

July 24, 2020

Vice President Mike Pence helped deliver a shipment of personal protective equipment provided by FEMA to the Woodbine Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Alexandria, Va., in May,

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Expired surgical masks. Isolation gowns that resemble oversize trash bags. Extra-small gloves that are all but useless for the typical health worker’s hands.

Nursing home employees across the country have been dismayed by what they’ve found when they’ve opened boxes of protective medical gear sent by the federal government, part of a $134 million effort to provide facilities a 14-day supply of equipment considered critical for shielding their vulnerable residents from the coronavirus.

The shipments have included loose gloves of unknown provenance stuffed into unmarked Ziploc bags, surgical masks crafted from underwear fabric and plastic isolation gowns without openings for hands that require users to punch their fists through the closed sleeves. Adhesive tape must be used to secure them.

Health regulators in California have advised nursing homes not to use the gowns, saying they present an infection-control risk, especially when doffing contaminated gowns that must be torn off.

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New Jersey gives option for remote-only learning to all students

07/24/2020

Politico

A teacher removes decorations from the walls of a classroom 

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All New Jersey students will have the option of full-time remote learning in the fall, Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday.

The state Department of Education added the remote-only guidance for families who choose to eschew in-person schooling to its “Restart and Recovery” education plan, first released last month.

“This option should be allowed by school districts as part of their reopening plans. We have heard from numerous parents and families who’ve asked for this and we’ve heard them loud and clear,” Murphy said during his regular briefing in Trenton. “We are not mandating any one specific way to move forward.”

With the school year slated to begin in six weeks, school districts only have a short window to meet the core elements of the DOE’s guidance. Remote learning must be universally available, per the DOE, including for students who receive special education or related services.

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