TRENTON — Gov. Phil Murphy says the federal government is basically telling educators and first responders “you are not essential” in failing to provide proper funding to offset the stoppage of the NJ economy because of COVID-19.

At his daily press conference in Trenton on Thursday, the governor keyed in on $1.8 billion as part of CARES Act funds - part of a federal stimulus package of $150 billion signed by President Trump in March. 

Although he was initially told the funds could be used “flexibly,” Murphy clarified that new guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department will mean “a chunk” of the money will have to be returned.

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Matt Platkin, Murphy's Chief Counsel, explained that the guidance doesn’t allow for usage of money on any items the government budgeted for in 2019. 

For instance, he said, despite schools in the Garden State needing more resources to carry out remote learning effectively, education does not qualify for the funds.

“If the federal government doesn’t do its job and support New Jersey families, we may not be able to keep our teachers, cops, firefighters and paramedics employed — the very people who are on the front lines every day,” said Murphy. 

The caseload in New Jersey climbed to 99,989 confirmed positive patients (4,247 more in the past 24 hours) and 5,368 deaths (307 more) on Thursday.

The governor said it’s very likely NJ will surpass 100,000 cases Friday — almost a month to the day “Stay at Home” orders took effect statewide.

“At this point, I’d like to think otherwise, but we can't ease up one bit,” Murphy said, noting it won’t be weeks until that discussion happens. “I am not in a position yet to begin reopening the state and jump-starting economy.”

In the state last week, another 140,139 people filed for unemployment. That’s over 858,000 total claims in the state so far - a figure that last year barely exceeded 84,000 in the same period. 

Murphy, a Democrat, also doubled down on comments he made toward U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell - who Wednesday appeared to speak in favor of allowing states to file for bankruptcy instead of requesting more federal aid. 

“There’s not going to be any desire on the Republican side to bail out state pensions by borrowing money from future generations,” McConnell said in a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt.

Murphy called the comments “completely and utterly irresponsible,” saying no state aid would force states like New Jersey to issue large-scale layoffs and “gut the living daylights” out of “the exact services that our citizens need right now."

“This isn’t about partisanship,” Murphy said Thursday, invoking Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan in connection to McConnell’s party. “This is about America. Those were leaders who met the moment. That is the challenge to you and leaders in this country, to find your bigness, to meet history head on."

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