HACKENSACK, N.J. — On the heels of a $2.2 trillion emergency stimulus package, which Congress passed last week to aid in the fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19), the State of New Jersey will be receiving $82.2 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Community Planning and Development for the same.
Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker made the announcement at a press conference outside One Bergen County Plaza in Hackensack early Thursday afternoon, which included Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco, Freeholder Mary Amoroso, and Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton, among other dignitaries.
Bergen County is being awarded its first installment of more than $8.3 million — the most in federal funding out of all 21 counties in the Garden State. Bergen County, home to 1 million residents, continues to lead as the hardest hit county in the state with 3,494 reported presumptive positive cases and 75 deaths to date.
The $8.3 million comes from proven federal grant programs designed to bestow state and local governments with flexibility to address their most critical needs and aid communities in recovery efforts from the economic fallout instigated by the stringent social distancing measures put in place to flatten the curve of the skyrocketing deadly disease. Specifically, Bergen County is receiving $5.56 million in Community Development Block Grants and another $2.74 million in Emergency Solutions Grants.
The package also includes direct payments to families, enhanced unemployment compensation for those out of work, and forgivable loans for small businesses.
Additionally, the funds will also go towards providing personal protective equipment and other critical supplies to those on the front lines from health care workers to first-responders in what has been dubbed “the war” against COVID-19. Tedesco said six nearby medical centers are filled to capacity with ailing patients.
In the two weeks since the World Health Organization labeled COVID-19 a pandemic, the global death toll has exceeded 50,000 with more than 1 million people infected.
On a personal note, in the last 24 hours, Tedesco said an uncle, and a friend, who is the wife of a county employee, succumbed to the virus.
“Bergen County is in a crisis,” said Tedesco. “We need the resources to protect our residents, first responders, and health care professionals as we fight this dangerous virus. We are fighting the battle of Bergen today, the battle of New Jersey, to win this war.”
To break down New Jersey’s reward, $53.3 million has been awarded in Community Develop Block Grants to help communities fund infrastructure, economic development projects, public facilities installation, community centers, housing rehabilitation, and homeowner assistance, to name a few.
An additional $26 million in Emergency Solutions Grants will go towards rental assistance, eviction prevention and anti-homelessness programs; roughly $2 million in Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS grants will be delivered to assist low-income residents who are immunocompromised living with HIV.
According to Menendez, the stimulus package is the “largest-ever” emergency response package negotiated in U.S. history. Senator Menendez, who serves as a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee that sets national health and tax policy, was part of a team of bipartisan negotiators who worked with the Trump Administration to establish the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Booker was also instrumental in the negotiations.
“At the start of these negotiations, the other side was eager to pass a bill that didn’t send a dime to state and local governments, but Cory and I knew that would be unacceptable,” said Menendez. “In recent weeks, we’ve heard from hundreds of mayors who conducted some conference calls with mayors across the state and public officials across New Jersey, and it’s clear they’re facing a one-two punch. Demand for essential local services like emergency response, rental assistance, mental health care services and more is going through the roof at the very same time that their revenues to pay for them are plummeting like never before.”
In this time of crisis, which Menendez said is “unlike anything he has encountered before” after having lived through 9/11, Superstorm Sandy and the financial crisis of 2008, the federal government alone can help cash-strapped communities avert the “painful choices” of having to lay off first responders and shuttering local health departments in a time when they are most needed.
“I’m proud that Senator Booker and I and our Democratic colleagues stood our ground,” said Menendez. “We fought back, and in the end we secured billions of dollars in addition aid for state and local governments.”
But their work to secure additional funding doesn’t end there.
“This is still not enough,” said Booker. “Senator Menendez and I know this was an imperfect bill. It was the result of a compromise. The State of New Jersey sends more taxpayer dollars back down to Washington than we get in return. We are going to continue to fight to get those critical resources that this state needs. In addition to that, Senator Menendez and I are fighting in line with our governor to get critical personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other things for our state to empower our first responders. We are demanding the President step up and use his power and authority to help people in New Jersey and across this nation get the resources they need.”
In the face of practicing social distancing, Booker encouraged New Jersey residents to do their part and show their support by reaching out to local food banks and shelters that need donations.
“In this unprecedented challenge, this is a time for all of us to rise up,” said Booker. “We may be isolated from each other, but let’s stand together and show that we are Jersey strong.”