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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Positive COVID-19 Cases: 6,876 | Deaths: 81
[New Jersey Department of Health / COVID-19 Dashboard]
The federal stimulus bill, slated for a vote later today, will provide New Jersey with $3.44 billion in aid to address the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s unclear if these funds can only be used to cover new expenses incurred due to COVID-19, such as increased public health spending, or if they can also be used to shore up the state’s finances as income, sales, and corporate business tax revenue drop due to social distancing measures. Regardless, states, including New Jersey, will still need a lot more support from the federal government to provide critical relief to workers, families, and business, and to prevent the state from making dramatic cuts to programs due to a revenue shortfall. To put the $3.44 billion figure in context, just last week Governor Murphy estimated that New Jersey will need $20 billion in federal assistance to deal with the economic fallout caused by COVID-19. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
The federal stimulus bill, known as the CARES Act, will also provide direct relief to workers and their families. The bill provides up to $1,200 in “recovery rebates” to individuals with income up to $75,000 a year, plus an additional $500 per child. The benefit phases out for individuals with income over $75,000, with no benefit for those with income over $99,000. Similar to the state aid portion of the stimulus, these measures fall short of meeting the needs of families who may have lost their jobs but still have to pay for things like rent, groceries, and other necessities. The bill also includes troubling exemptions for immigrants who file taxes via Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN), and it exempts children who are U.S. citizens if their parents are undocumented. From both an economic and humanitarian perspective, no one should be left behind in the federal government’s COVID-19 stimulus, regardless of their immigration status or where their parents were born. [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy]
New Jersey is experiencing an unprecedented surge in unemployment claims as a result of the closure of nonessential businesses to stop the spread of COVID-19. Nearly 156,000 New Jersey workers filed for unemployment last week alone — a 1,546 percent increase over the same week a year ago. This spike in unemployment claims shatters all previous records in New Jersey; weekly claims peaked after Hurricane Sandy at 46,000 and at the height of the Great Recession at 25,000, according to the state Department of Labor. This number likely undercounts how many New Jersey residents are actually out of work, however, as the state’s intake system has been overwhelmed by the volume of new claims. Further, this figure does not include workers in the gig economy who have lost hours but do not qualify for unemployment insurance. [NJ.com / Samantha Marcus]
The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) has approved $75 million in grants and loans to assist small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new initiatives include $5 million for a new Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program, which will provide up to $5,000 to small businesses to stabilize their operations and reduce the need for layoffs, and $10 million for a new Small Business Emergency Assistance Loan Program that will provide small businesses with zero- and low-interest loans. The EDA’s shift in focus to small businesses is a welcome one, as these are the businesses that will need relief the most — not large multi-national corporations. Tim Sullivan, CEO of the EDA, put it nicely here: “Small- and medium-sized enterprises are the heartbeat of New Jersey’s economy and it is crucial that we do what we can to provide the resources and assistance they need to withstand the outbreak of novel coronavirus.” [ROI NJ / Tom Bergeron]
New Jersey will release as many as 1,000 people from its jails to prevent the spread of COVID-19 under a new order by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. The order, which may be the broadest effort yet in the nation to release people who are incarcerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, applies to those jailed for probation violations, those convicted in municipal court, and those sentenced for low-level crimes in Superior Court. Here’s what Amol Sinha, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Jersey had to say about the order: “Unprecedented times call for rethinking the normal way of doing things. And in this case, it means releasing people who pose little risk to their communities for the sake of public health and the dignity of people who are incarcerated.” We couldn’t agree more. [The New York Times / Tracey Tully]
Earlier this week, Senate President Steve Sweeney penned an op-ed in The Star-Ledger on the COVID-19 pandemic and the workers, public programs, and institutions that keep our society running in these challenging times. While the entire piece is worth a read and a share, this is my favorite line: “Social safety nets, along with equitable tax policy, not only protected the American middle class throughout the mid-20th century but fueled its growth.” This is precisely why New Jersey must protect and expand its social safety net programs and ensure the state has the resources to do so. [NJ.com / Senate President Steve Sweeney]
Pets of NJPP
Say “hello” to Bernie, NJPP Research Director Nicole Rodriguez’s co-worker cat. Bernie, also known as Bernard T. Toast, Esq., is a prolific bullet journaler (note the productivity planner), loves cat treats, and enjoys hiding behind the window curtains in his spare time.
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