NEWTON, NJ- Close to five months have passed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the County of Sussex continues to wait for reimbursement from the Murphy Administration of more than $690,000, for monies the county spent from its own budget for COVID-19 expenses, including testing and personal protective equipment or PPE.
Although on Friday morning during the Governor’s office conference call with county officials throughout the state, New Jersey’s Department of Health announced it would be allocating $32.3 million to county and local health departments for testing sites, contact tracing and other COVID-19 related costs, with $13.7 million for county and $18.6 million to local health departments, no further details were released.
Sussex County is one of 12 counties that has been waiting on Governor Phil Murphy, who has claimed his delay is due to his request for guidance from federal officials on how to allocate $2.4 billion in unspent federal relief from the Coronavirus Relief Fund, with monies continuing to sit in a state bank account. With a population base under the 500,000 threshold, Sussex County was one of the New Jersey counties that did not qualify for direct federal aid through the CARES Act. Freeholder Herbert Yardley sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence on April 6, Governor Murphy on May 5 and Senate President Stephen Sweeney on June 4 about the county’s lack of federal funding to fight COVID-19, with no responses received.
“If we were a different county, there would be acknowledgement of these letters,” Freeholder Yardley said. “I am disappointed the Governor has not even acknowledged them.”
Freeholder Yardley questions what strings will be attached to the Department of Health’s announcement of proposed funding to county and local health departments.
“Being mistreated and abandoned by Trenton is nothing new for Sussex County,” said
Freeholder Josh Hertzberg. “But having Trenton directives cause the death of so many of our most vulnerable population, while receiving no assistance, is more than abandoned, it’s a message received loud and clear. If that doesn’t teach us to start becoming self-sufficient, nothing will. We need to recognize that New Jersey is a financial sinking ship and make financial solvency a priority in our county and townships.”
"Our towns and businesses in Sussex County desperately need this funding,” said Sussex County Freeholder Anthony Fasano. “For whatever reason, the Governor is sitting on it. If this virus is a war, then he needs to give Sussex County the tools to defeat it. COVID-19 sees no county border or political affiliation. I can't say the same right now about the Governor's funding decisions."
Senator Steve Oroho and Assemblymen Parker Space and Hal Wirths (all R-24) have countered Governor Murphy’s claims of lack of federal guidance and said in fact the Governor had received guidance twice from the federal Department of the Treasury on June 24 and June 30. John G. Donnadio, Executive Director of the New Jersey Association of Counties also urged the Governor in a June 30 letter to reimburse these counties for their expenses, noting county governments have “led the way on the front lines and played a vital role in providing essential services and protecting the public health, safety and welfare of residents across the Garden State during this once in a generation pandemic.”
According to an article published on NJ.com on July 31, a report from the U.S. Treasury Department Inspector General encompassing data through July 23, shows New Jersey has only distributed $51 million or 2.1 percent of its $2.4 billion stimulus monies received, in spite of the consistent federal guidance provided to the Murphy Administration about allocation of these funds. Neighboring New York and Pennsylvania have presently allocated 42 and 28 percent of their respective funds, according to the Treasury report.
On the heels of the fifth month without CARES funding, Sussex County residents who are receiving unemployment benefits, like others across the nation, are now faced with the discontinuation of the $600 weekly CARES payments. Residents receiving unemployment now also face the termination of amnesty programs protecting them from eviction, foreclosure and utility shutoffs. On the other hand, NJ.com reported on Friday, the New Jersey Pandemic
Relief Fund, chaired by Governor Murphy’s wife Tammy Murphy, will provide $4.5 million in direct cash assistance to undocumented immigrants, who have been ineligible to receive state and federal pandemic relief. The organization plans to provide pre-loaded $500 debit cards per undocumented family with two or more members and $1,000 cards to undocumented families with three or more members.