HACKENSACK – Cory Booker lightened the mood upon arrival by joking about his recent weight gain, but this was pretty serious stuff. As Bob Menendez put it, “We’re at the epicenter of our challenge.”
The state’s two U.S.senators were outside the Bergen County government complex this afternoon to highlight the award of about $82 million to New Jersey counties and towns from the just-passed $2 trillion-plus federal stimulus bill.
Menendez’ reference was to the fact Bergen has the most coronavirus cases in the state.
As is fitting for the times, this was a pretty odd press conference.
The two senators and an array of Bergen officials kept their distance – assembing about 10 feet from each other. Reporters were scattered around as well and after the formal event, the senators were
interviewed by a TV reporter wielding a long pole with a mic on the end.
This first batch of money is going to 17 of the 21 county governents.
Excluded for the time being at least are Hunterdon, Warren, Salem and Sussex counties.
Most of the money – $53.5 million – is in the form of community development block grants, a longstanding HUD program. This will be used for various public works projects, including infrastructure
improvements and housing rehabilitation.
Another large chunk of money – $26 million – will help fund rental assistance and eviction prevention for residents.
In addition to 17 counties, many towns are getting money as well, including Cherry Hill, Vineland, East Orange, Wayne and Parsippany.
Menendez waded a bit into partisan politics when he responded to complaints Democrats irresponsibly held up the stimulus package for a few days. He said thay did that to make sure grants – like the one
highlighted today – were included in the bill.
Booker, for his part, made a pitch to reopen the sign-up period for health insurance coverage through the ACA. He said not to allow people to explore all types of health coverage in these times is disgraceful.
The senators were asked about a Donald Trump tweet this morning that said some local officials were complaining too much about the federal government.
Menendez shrugged it off, saying fighting for your state and region is not complaining.
The day was about money, but there was also a human factor.
James Tedesco, the executive of hard-hit Bergen, said an uncle and a friend recently passed away from the virus.
And Menendez came close to choking up when he recounted seeing his new grandchild last weekend – but from a distance of six feet.