The State Budget Must Support Those Harmed Most by the Pandemic

Testimony by NJPP Senior Policy Analyst Sheila Reynertson in support of a state budget that funds New Jersey's pandemic recovery.

Published on Mar 10, 2021 in Tax and Budget

The following testimony on the FY 2022 state budget was delivered to the Assembly Budget Committee on March 10, 2021.

Good morning, Chairwoman Pintor Marin and members of the Budget Committee. My name is Sheila Reynertson and I am here today representing New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP) and the For The Many budget coalition.

The most important priority for the FY2022 budget must be supporting those who were disproportionately harmed by both the public health crisis itself and the economic fallout that continues to this day. Black women, Hispanic/Latinx women, essential workers, immigrant workers, low-income households — these are the residents who were immediately at higher risk of contracting the deadly virus, the most likely to lose their jobs, and typically the last to recover from an economic downturn.

It may have been convenient to avoid these glaring disparities before, but the ferocious nature of the pandemic exposed all of it. We cannot turn away from the challenge and opportunities to advance racial and gender equity through the tax code and through sustainable programs that are proven building blocks of a strong state economy.

The FY2022 budget as proposed by Governor Murphy goes a long way to address the uneven impact of this past year in several commendable ways that will make an immediate difference in the lives of children, students, struggling families and seniors. Again, we strongly agree with this approach. Invest in the people and the economy will recover. Invest in the most vulnerable people and the economy will grow stronger than ever.

We support the health care investments focused on low-income families like subsidies for health insurance, a full year of Medicaid coverage after childbirth, funding for reproductive health care services for those without a path toward health insurance, and securing health insurance for every last child in the state.

We support the EITC expansion proposal to include 70,000 low-income, senior workers without kids and making the Child and Dependent Child Care Tax Credit fully refundable so those who need it the most can access it. We also support the state’s role in keeping families together with the increase in funding for legal representation for immigrants facing detention or deportation.

However, it is unfathomable that financial assistance for immigrants has been excluded from pandemic relief. A solution must be found to protect these vulnerable households from becoming impoverished. New Jersey can’t simply turn a blind eye to one its greatest assets: our immigrant communities. The EITC should also be increased and expanded to include immigrants as ITIN filers, low-income workers without children, and to those between the ages of 18 and 21.

Of course, we support the full pension payment a year ahead of schedule, a bigger allocation into the school funding formula and the expansion of pre-K education to another 1,800 children in 25 districts. The $100 million in new funding for higher education is exactly the type of building blocks of a state economy that we have long advocated for.

But to ensure adequate funding for years to come we remind the Assembly budget members to keep an eye on the not-too-distant future. Once the borrowed dollars have been spent and the federal aid is gone, New Jersey can’t expect economic growth alone to make up the difference. And certainly not with corporations looking to cash in their tax subsidies.

The topic may be getting a pass this year, but new sustainable revenue must be on the table before so we can both fund these increased investments well into the future and pay off the billions of dollars that the state just borrowed. New Jersey has a decision to make and we can’t afford making the wrong one: We can either turn a blind eye to the looming shortfalls in future budgets that will put millions of residents at risk of falling further behind or we can recommit to creating a modernized and equitable tax code to ensure a strong state recovery for everyone, especially those hit hardest by the events of the past year. Thank you.

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