Frank Pallone has represented much of Middlesex and Monmouth County in Congress since 1988. As chairman of the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee, he’s well-perched to bring home the bacon to NJ every year. In a perfect world this interview takes place on the capitol steps with the dome in the background creating a stunning backdrop. But with COVID-19 still smoldering, we did 5 questions via text and email instead.
I’m not Oprah or Terry Gross. I just asked questions that I was curious to hear the answers to.
1) What are your constituents most worried about right now? What are they calling about?
Congressman Frank Pallone: Unemployment and the ability to provide for their families are the top concerns. More than 16 percent of our state is unemployed – that’s the second highest in the nation. Coronavirus is the leading concern both for health and economic purposes. The House-passed Heroes Act would help with both concerns and would specifically extend the $600 weekly unemployment benefit through the end of the year. Unfortunately, the Republican response plan falls far short of what is necessary to control the spread of the virus and to provide economic support to New Jersey families.
2) When do you think another round of relief checks will go out?
FP: That depends on whether the Republicans are willing to negotiate a meaningful coronavirus package. It could be as early as August if Republicans are ready to come together and work with Democrats.
3) You’ll be on the ballot November with a referendum question to legalize cannabis. Do you have any thoughts on about that? How do you plan to vote? (I’m voting yes, by the way.)
FP: I will support the referendum question. Enforcement of marijuana laws has led to the unequal treatment and targeting of minority communities and has contributed to the mass incarceration of Black people in New Jersey and throughout our country.
Marijuana should be legalized.
4) Lawmakers in Trenton are toying with the idea of delaying the redistricting process for two years citing COVID. Do you have any reaction to that?
FP: The Trump Administration is putting a timely and accurate census at risk. As a result, there is a genuine concern about whether the White House will deliver timely census data to states like New Jersey and Virginia that must draw new state legislative districts for their elections in 2021. My focus is on ensuring a complete count so that when we eventually receive the data it accurately reflects our communities and ensures New Jersey gets its fair share of federal support.
5) Why do you think Republican Congress Members are so adamant about slashing unemployment provisions in the middle of a crisis? Are they mad at us?
FP: President Trump and the Senate Republican leadership have convinced themselves that the COVID crisis is over and that the economy is on its way to a full recovery. They have their heads in the sand. We can only stop the spread of the virus by implementing a national plan for testing, movement of medical supplies, and standards for closing. The economy will not rebound unless we flatten the COVID curve. Unfortunately, the Senate Republicans have not provided a well-funded national plan based on science that would help stop the spread of the virus and get people back to work.