Overwhelmed NJ unemployment system still needs more help, commissioner says

JOHN REITMEYER, BUDGET/FINANCE WRITER | APRIL 22, 2021

NJ Spotlight News

The head of the state agency that handles unemployment benefits told lawmakers that over the last year staffing has been tripled and technology upgraded, all in an effort to meet a historic crush of jobless claims that millions of New Jersey residents have filed during the coronavirus pandemic.

But the persistent backlogs and other challenges residents trying to file for benefits have often loudly complained about are also caused by an outdated federal unemployment system, said Robert Asaro-Angelo, the commissioner of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, during a budget hearing Wednesday.

So even as the state has worked to improve its own unemployment benefits processing since the onset of the health crisis, it will take federal reform to really set things right, he told members of the Assembly Budget Committee.

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Post Guilty Verdict, Reform Champion Rice Cuts through ‘Apple Pie Talk’

By Max Pizarro | April 21, 2021

Insider NJ

On the same day a jury delivered a guilty verdict in the case of former Police Officer Derek Chauvin, veteran state Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28) said the case should prod New Jersey to “get its act together.”

The senator from Newark has long criticized a legislative leadership agenda that gives the appearance of work getting done on reform bills that die in committee, or make it into law absent key social justice provisions, like marijuana legalization.

A lot of people post Chauvin decision have called on lawmakers to not lose sight of an opportunity to make real changes.

In an interview this morning with InsiderNJ, Rice explained why his home state must not languish and allow Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd to merely serve as a feel-good press release moment.

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Rutgers COO: Students Who Don't Want Vaccine Should Consider Gap Year, Transferring

Antonio Calcado, the executive vice president for strategic planning and operations and COO, says students who don't want the COVID-19 vaccine should consider taking a gap year or transferring.
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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — A high-ranking Rutgers executive says students who decline to take the COVID-19 vaccine should consider taking a gap year or transferring to another school.

Antonio Calcado, the executive vice president for strategic planning and operations and chief operating officer, said there are five exemptions the state university is making for students returning in the fall.

Speaking last week during the regular COVID-19 health briefing hosted by Brian Strom, the chancellor of biomedical and health sciences and the executive vice president for health affairs, Calcado said students may request an exemption from vaccination for medical or religious reasons. Students enrolled in fully remote online degree programs and individuals participating in online-only continuing education programs will not be required to be vaccinated.

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Why the verdict in the George Floyd case matters in New Jersey | Opinion

Posted Apr 20, 2021

Long before the jury came back Tuesday afternoon it was clear to many in New Jersey, especially those in communities of color, that George Floyd was murdered and former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was guilty. What was also clear is that this trial was not just about Chauvin, and not just about the man he killed. Policing itself was on trial.

The verdict, said former Newark Police Department lieutenant Ronald Glover, “sounds an alarm that will wake up every New Jerseyan to the fact that traditional policing is dead.”

Most also said the verdict was not the end but a beginning. Now, New Jersey, and other communities, would have to rebuild trust among those in the community and those assigned to protect it. Others said that the even harder work of overhauling how public safety is handled in this country is just beginning.

“A flawed system laid the groundwork for the death of George Floyd. It’s a system that too often fails to recruit police from the communities they guard, fails to train officers properly, fails to place just limits on the use of force against citizens, and fails to create mechanisms for the independent investigation of misconduct,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. “It’s a system that badly needs reform — here and across the country.

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Murphy vetoes mandatory minimum bill as Grewal unilaterally eliminates some sentences

 Politico

04/19/2021

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s directive may help allay the concerns of criminal justice advocates who did not want to see mandatory minimum sentences upheld over a political fight, leading some to throw their support behind the legislative effort. 

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Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday vetoed a bill that would do away with mandatory minimum prison terms for non-violent crimes, excising sections that would eliminate the sentences for corruption offenses.

At the same time, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued a directive requiring that prosecutors make use of a provision in New Jersey law allowing them to set aside mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related crimes.

“I am particularly troubled by the notion that this bill would eliminate mandatory prison time for elected officials who abuse their office for their own benefit, such as those who take bribes. Our representative democracy is based on the premise that our elected officials represent the interests of their constituents, not their own personal interests,” Murphy wrote in his veto message, which also took a shot at former President Donald Trump. “I cannot sign a bill into law that would undermine that premise and further erode our residents’ trust in our democratic form of government, particularly after four years of a presidential administration whose corruption was as pervasive as it was brazen.”

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Head of MVC told to make fixes after COVID-19 disruptions

JOHN REITMEYER, BUDGET/FINANCE WRITER | APRIL 20, 2021 

NJ Spotlight News

Motor Vehicle Commission chief administrator Sue Fulton

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The head of New Jersey’s Motor Vehicle Commission faced another grilling from lawmakers who said their constituents continue to be frustrated with frequent office closures and other difficulties securing appointments for services during the ongoing pandemic.

During a hearing Monday that was supposed to be about her agency’s latest state budget request, MVC chief administrator Sue Fulton instead was peppered with questions about its ongoing struggles to adapt to challenges posed by the health crisis.

“Something has got to get done,” said Assembly Budget Committee Chair Eliana Pintor Marin (D-Essex). “There’s got to be something we can do in order to make sure that people are getting what they need.”

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Sweeney: My plan would make a degree from a 4-year public college affordable | Opinion

Posted Apr 18, 2021

By Steve Sweeney

State Senator Steve Sweeney says New Jersey should guarantee the last two years of college at any public institution of higher learning will be tuition-free. The program would be available for households with an adjusted gross income of $65,000 or less. 
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To continue to make a college education affordable for all New Jersey families, we need a plan that builds on the Community College Opportunity Grant (CCOG) program and that serves to incentivize students, regardless of socio-economic status, to stay on course with their studies all four years.

We can do this by guaranteeing the last two years of college at any public institution of higher learning will be tuition-free, through a similar “last dollar in” program that, like the CCOG, would be available for households with an adjusted gross income of $65,000 or less. This program has been percolating for a while now in higher education reform circles and we believe that, as an alternative to the governor’s Garden State Guarantee proposal, we will be taking a reasonable idea and making it better.

While many of us can agree that the cost of college is fast becoming unaffordable for many working families in our state, and recognize the severity of the problem of paying off leftover student debt after graduation, I believe helping to pay for the last two years will be a more effective way to address the problem.

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Admired owner of popular Newark soul food restaurant dies at 86

Posted Apr 16, 2021

John Steward’s soul food restaurant on Wright Street in Newark attracted everyone, from celebrities like Shaquille O’Neal to churchgoers looking for a good meal after Sunday services, his nephew said.

“Everyone came in from all walks of life and sat down and had a great meal there,” said Steward’s nephew, Godfrey Allen.

Steward, the longtime owner of the family-run restaurant, died on April 10 from a heart attack, his family said. He was 86.

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University Hospital needs $1 billion overhaul, CEO says

LILO H. STAINTON, HEALTH CARE WRITER | APRIL 19, 2021

NJ Spotlight News

April 14, 2021: Dr. Shereef Elnahal, president and CEO of University Hospital, Newark at the announcement of state funding for a study of a potential new hospital

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A new University Hospital in Newark should include modernized operating rooms, a stroke center, additional space for liver transplants, and innovatively designed areas to better support primary care and help address underlying social issues like poverty, housing challenges or poor nutrition.

That is the vision of Dr. Shereef Elnahal, University’s president and CEO, and it comes with a current estimated price tag of $1 billion. The existing 42-year-old facility — twice the age of New Jersey’s other hospitals, on average — suffers from occasional flooding and regular overcrowding in the emergency room, officials note, and is not built for today’s team-based approach to medicine.

As the state’s only true public hospital with a unique mandate to care for Newark residents, a new University Hospital needs to enable “newer, more innovative models to meet not only the clinical needs but also the upstream social needs that patients have that ultimately determine their health outcomes,” said Elnahal, a former state health commissioner.

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Biden’s broken promise. And why he has no choice. | Editorial

Posted Apr 15, 2021

During last year’s presidential campaign, Joe Biden promised to work “across the aisle to reach consensus” with Republicans in Congress. But so far, we’ve seen no evidence of that, beyond a few bipartisan meetings at the White House that produced no agreement.

So, now Biden is redefining the word “bipartisan.” It’s no longer about making deals with Mitch McConnell, but going over his head, and fashioning policies that appeal to Republican voters themselves.

“If you looked up ‘bipartisan’ in the dictionary, I think it would say support from Republicans and Democrats,” his senior advisor, Anita Dunn, recently told the Washington Post. “It doesn’t say the Republicans have to be in Congress.”

Yes, we are witnessing a bait and switch. During the campaign, Biden’s Democratic rivals called him a dreamer when he said he could make deals with Republicans in Washington. And let’s face it, his critics were correct.

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