LIVINGSTON, NJ — Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill, whose husband is currently recovering at home from COVID-19, served as one of three special guests who spoke to residents and businesses owners from New Jersey’s 11th District on Wednesday about the impacts of the coronavirus during a special Zoom conference hosted by the Livingston, West Orange and North Essex Chambers of Commerce.

Sherrill shared that after her husband, Jason, tested positive for COVID-19, she visited the Essex County testing site with mild symptoms of her own and tested negative for the disease. In addition to praising Essex County for “running such a great testing site,” Sherrill also took the opportunity to praise the healthcare workers who are fighting the pandemic each day.

“I am on a conference call every morning with our healthcare providers, and it’s tough,” she said during the virtual “town hall” meeting. “It’s really tough for them day in and day out, struggling to beat this horrible disease and to be so fearful for their own health and the health of their families. But together, we’ve found ways to connect online with our friends and neighbors—much like we are doing right now in this town hall.”

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Speaking about the impact of COVID-19 on local businesses, Sherrill said she has been hearing every day “just how much everyone is suffering” and offered an overview of what she has been working on at the local level as well as “the federal legislation that Congress passed to help small businesses and workers.”

“I traveled to D.C. last month to vote on the third piece of coronavirus response legislation, the CARES Act, signed by the president on March 27,” she said. “This was a $2-trillion package of legislation, and some of the money and HUD grants are coming into the [11th] district.

“Morris, Essex and Passaic counties—as well as Parsippany, Wayne and Bloomfield—were awarded funding for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), housing assistance and for homelessness prevention. This grant funding is being administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development using the standard formula for such funding in fiscal year 2020. This funding represents just a small share of what is ultimately coming to New Jersey.”

According to Sherrill, the State of New Jersey will receive $3.44 billion from a “Coronavirus Relief Fund” that is intended to help states and municipalities address the COVID-19 crisis.

The congresswoman further noted that the state has expanded unemployment insurance so that not only people who haven’t been traditionally covered by unemployment insurance, but also people such as “part-time, self-employed and gig-economy workers” will have access to unemployment benefits.

Congress also passed a $600 increase “for every American in the bill,” which Sherrill said equates to “100 percent of wages for the average American without a paycheck,” and expanded the Loan Forgiveness Program and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

“I know our team has gotten calls from many constituents about these programs, and those were put out last Friday,” she said. “I’ve called on the treasury department to get the regulations out in a more timely manner, and we’ve been dealing with them now to take immediate steps to encourage additional lenders to issue PPP loans to small businesses struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Congress has given full authority and funding to the administration, and we need treasury to make sure that our small businesses in New Jersey have access to these loans.”

According to Sherrill, the legislation includes “direct cash payments to lower-and middle-income New Jerseyans, $1,200 for each adult and $500 for each child if [an individual is] making $75,000 [or] $150,000 per household.”

In the meantime, Sherrill said there is still much work to be done to help the state.

“I’m already getting to work on the fourth piece of coronavirus legislation,” said Sherrill. “There’s strong bipartisan support to add more money” to the Small Business Association (SBA) loan program.”

In addition to the fact that “many of these programs have been so necessary to people right now,” Sherrill said she also wants to “get to work” on this as soon as possible in order to provide enough relief as possible to the communities in need.

“I want to look at some of the time frames we set in the third package so as we face this crisis, we are providing enough relief to our communities and provisions aren’t expiring before we are on the other side of the crisis,” she said.

Reiterating points made in her daily calls this week with medical providers, Sherrill said that although the 11th District of New Jersey has seen the curve starting to flatten, medical professionals “are really emphasizing the continued importance of social distancing.”

“We have actually started to see the curve flatten in the 11th District of New Jersey, meaning we’re still having more cases coming into the hospitals, but not at the rapid rate we were seeing just a couple of days ago,” said Sherrill. “As you know, our social distancing started weeks ago, and now we’re seeing the impacts so it takes a little bit of time, and I’m bringing it up because I know this is a tough time to be away from family.

“Easter weekend is this Sunday, my kids are already bugging me about why they aren’t going to their cousins’ house. But we are seeing the social distancing starting to work, start to make inroads, and it’s so critical that we get the healthcare portion right so we can get the economic portion right.”

Also providing significant information during Wednesday's event were Dr. Eric Handler, Associate Medical Director in the Emergency Department at Saint Barnabas Medical Center (SBMC), who described what life has been like for the healthcare workers at SBMC and shared safety tips with the community, and Paul Ceppi from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, who shared insight on assistance being provided to local businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic.

Coverage of their portions of the program will be published in the coming days.

Wednesday’s Zoom program was held in conjunction with the Livingston Area Chamber of Commerce, the West Orange Chamber of Commerce and the North Essex Chamber of Commerce, which serves the communities of Caldwell, Cedar Grove, Essex Fells, Fairfield, Montclair, North Caldwell, Roseland, Verona and West Caldwell.

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