Friday Facts and Figures is a weekly newsletter with data points, analysis, and commentary on the biggest policy debates in New Jersey and beyond.
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COVID-19 Cases: 386,606 | Deaths: 15,740
[New Jersey Department of Health / COVID-19 Dashboard]
State lawmakers are fast-tracking a bill that would restructure Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield — New Jersey’s largest and only charitable health insurer — without a concrete understanding of how this would impact the health care of millions of New Jerseyans. This proposal is a big deal, as Horizon insures approximately 3.6 million residents across the state and, as a result, has significant influence over the affordability of health care in the Garden State. The bill would change Horizon’s corporate structure, splitting its health insurance operations from other business ventures, while also changing the insurer’s state tax liability. Horizon claims this is necessary for them to modernize operations and invest in new technology. The problem is, this is an incredibly complicated piece of legislation, and key information — namely an independent evaluation of Horizon’s assets as well as a health impact study on the proposal — are missing from the policy debate. Also absent are the voices of consumer advocates, as hearings on the bill have either been invite-only or lacked adequate notification for the public to sign up to speak. Our recommendation for lawmakers: slow it down. [NJPP / Brittany Holom-Trundy]
With many businesses now reopened, tipped service workers are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, enforcing mask mandates and social distancing measures at the expense of their tips and safety. According to a new report by One Fair Wage, more than 80 percent of service workers are experiencing a decline in tips, and an alarming 40 percent are facing an increase in sexual harassment from customers. The study surveyed approximately 1,600 restaurant workers in five states, including New York and New Jersey, and recommends that states abolish the tipped minimum wage so service workers do not have to choose between their safety and their pay. “When you get a full wage from your boss, you don’t have to put up with everything from the customers,” said Saru Jayaraman, President of One Fair Wage. [NPR / Debbie Elliott and Emma Bowman]
Call it the Christmas Cliff: Approximately 500,000 jobless New Jerseyans are set to lose their unemployment benefits on December 26 if Congress fails to pass a new COVID-19 stimulus bill. This includes more than 300,000 gig workers and freelancers covered by the PUA program, as well as 175,000 jobless residents receiving PUAC, which provides an extra 13 weeks of unemployment insurance (UI). In total, more than 12 million residents across the country are set to lose their UI benefits without a new stimulus bill. House Democrats passed a $3 trillion stimulus, the HEROES Act, more than six months ago, but the proposal died in the Republican-controlled Senate. Now, a bipartisan group of lawmakers are negotiating a much smaller stimulus bill that they hope to pass before the end of the year. “We know how much this is going to hurt New Jersey families just after the holidays, so we remain hopeful new federal legislation will be enacted to provide much-needed relief to our state’s workers and small businesses without delay,” said state Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. [NJ.com / Sophie Nieto-Munoz]
Tax the Rich
Without significantly more aid from the federal government, states will continue to face massive budget shortfalls that endanger investments in public education, transit, the social safety net, and much more. To prevent these damaging cuts and set the foundation for a strong recovery for all, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recommends states tax the rich by reforming state taxes on income, real estate, capital gains, and inherited wealth. This report is worth a look, as it outlines tangible ways for states to raise revenue from the ultra-wealthy. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities / Samantha Waxman and Elizabeth Nichol]
State lawmakers are expected to vote on the bill to legalize cannabis next week. Use this action page from the ACLU NJ to urge your lawmakers to ensure the final bill centers racial justice and invests revenue from legal cannabis sales in communities harmed by the drug war. [ACLU NJ / Act Now]
Pets of NJPP
Meet Cherry, NJPP Research Director Nicole Rodriguez’s boyfriend’s co-working pup. Cherry is the sweetest pit bull you’ll ever meet. She loves to steal food, chase squirrels, and has been known to eat pet chickens (okay, it was just that one time and Nicole swears it was an honest mistake).
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