Friday Facts and Figures is a brief digital newsletter focusing on data points from NJPP reports, research, and policy debates in New Jersey and beyond.
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Welcome to a special edition of Friday Facts and Figures. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, NJPP will provide recommendations on critical policy interventions that federal, state, and local governments can take to mitigate harm in our communities. We will also share important directives from government and health officials to help you stay informed on the latest developments so you can act with accurate and reliable information.
According to state health officials, there are currently 29 presumptive cases of COVID-19 in New Jersey, with 13 in Bergen County alone. Due to the limited number of tests available — only 103 have been completed in the state at this time — the total number of cases is thought to be much higher. Virus symptoms may not show for up to two weeks, during which COVID-19 can still be passed onto others. The best thing to do right now is wash your hands thoroughly and regularly, avoid touching your face, and practice social distancing, which means that you should avoid crowds and stay home as much as possible. These measures are critical to protecting high-risk groups, specifically those over the age of 60 and those with an underlying health condition. [NJ Department of Health / COVID-19 Dashboard]
To help slow the spread of COVID-19, Governor Murphy has called for all public gatherings of 250 people or more to be canceled, New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner has suspended all new jury trials “until further notice,” and Bergen County officials have closed all 75 of the county’s school districts for at least two weeks. “We are taking this step because social distancing works,” Murphy said. “It is our best chance to ‘flatten the curve’ and mitigate the chance of rapid spread.” Flattening the curve, meaning delaying and reducing the outbreak peak through social distancing measures, is a critical containment strategy meant to prevent inundating the state’s health care system. [WHYY / Nicholas Pugliese]
Rainy Day Fund
As the COVID-19 virus continues to spread, there will likely be significant shocks to our economy, businesses, families, and systems of government. This is precisely why New Jersey must continue to raise revenue and invest heavily in its Rainy Day Fund, as this is the only way to maintain critical state services that families rely on during a revenue shortfall. As NJPP Senior Policy Analyst Sheila Reynertson told the Senate Budget Committee earlier this week, “The coronavirus might be gone by summer, but the U.S. economy might not be back in full swing at all. So we want to see New Jersey take a proactive stance and ensure those who will be hit hardest by the recession are protected.” [NJTV News / Briana Vannozzi]
The decisions that states make in a crisis are crucial to fending off further shocks to the economy and to limiting damage to families, workers, and businesses. There are critical policy interventions that should be considered, including: expanding paid sick time , which allows people to recover from short-term illnesses without losing income and their job; expanding access to unemployment insurance to cover more at-risk employees, including tipped workers, care workers, gig economy workers, and independent contractors, and; extending credit and no-interest loan options to small businesses that may experience decreased commerce activity during the crisis. Further, as recommended by the Housing and Community Housing Network of New Jersey, the state should enact mechanisms to prevent foreclosures, implement a statewide moratorium on evictions, and provide additional rental assistance, as worker’s employment statuses may be at-risk.
Most importantly, state lawmakers must avoid the mistakes of the past; meaning no passing of broad-based tax cuts that will disproportionately benefit the wealthiest families and companies. This would not only place increased burdens onto the average resident but also hamstring the public sector’s ability to act swiftly and responsibly. Instead, states should explore targeted interventions to support vulnerable people, small businesses, and front-line responders so that the strain on social systems does not reach catastrophic levels. [Center for American Progress / Andy Green]
Federal lawmakers and the Trump administration are currently negotiating a coronavirus response package that could include free testing, paid emergency leave, and increased unemployment coverage to those harmed by the pandemic. This follows the release of the Families First Act by House Democrats that would expand unemployment insurance, strengthen food assistance, and create paid sick days and emergency paid leave programs. As the Washington Center for Equitable Growth recommends, the federal government should make expansions of social supports permanent so that we are all prepared and protected when the next crisis hits. [Washington Center for Equitable Growth / Alix Gould-Wirth]
The state Department of Health (DOH) has created a 24-hour Coronavirus Hotline to answer general questions about COVID-19. Trained health care professionals are standing by to answer your calls at 1-800-222-1222. The DOH website also includes resource guides for the general public, businesses, schools, public health professionals, and state employees. Visit this site for more information. [NJ Department of Health / COVID-19 Resources]
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