Advocates urge state lawmakers to do much more to help New Jersey families as part of COVID economic recovery
The needs of big business interests have taken center stage, while legislation providing vital relief and protections for communities of color and New Jersey’s most vulnerable has stalled.
Trenton– Advocates for New Jersey’s low and moderate income families, a majority of them black and brown families, gathered today for a Zoom press conference calling on the State Legislature to prioritize the most urgent needs of New Jersey’s families as part of the state’s COVID-19 economic recovery. Lawmakers have put big business interests first as they plan reopening the state. Meanwhile, legislation providing vital protections and relief for New Jersey’s communities of color and New Jersey’s most vulnerable have stalled, despite the fact that these communities have been hardest hit by both the health and economic crises brought on by COVID-19.
“The pandemic has laid bare longstanding racial and socioeconomic inequalities that need to be directly addressed if New Jersey is to make a full economic recovery,” said Dena Mottola Jaborska, Associate Director of New Jersey Citizen Action. “While big business interests have taken center stage, too many New Jerseyans have fallen behind on mortgages, rent, car and credit card payments. They’ve suffered negative credit reports and had cars repossessed while struggling to not only survive the pandemic but to keep up with the costs of necessities such as food, medicine and utilities. We urgently need our State Legislature to provide relief and invest in these neglected communities, or New Jersey’s economic crisis will only worsen.”
“We will find no shortage of political will to invest in business recovery,” said Reverend Charles Boyer, Director, Salvation and Social Justice. “I hope there is even more political compassion and moral conviction to provide relief for Black and Latino families dealing with the dual pandemic of racism and Covid-19. If this moment has taught us anything it should be that healthcare is a human right and should not be a privilege. Therefore the legislature should prioritize and pass the Cover all Kids legislation and pick up the Health Insurance Assessment. This would close the coverage gap for our most under resourced children and ensure all of our kids have access to health care at this critical time.”
Approximately 40% of families in New Jersey struggle to make ends meet, the vast majority of them black and brown. The state also suffers from one of the nation’s worst wealth gaps. But COVID-19 related legislation concerning New Jersey’s most vulnerable have been stalled by corporate lobbying interests and the unwillingness of the Legislature to back new sources of funding and revenue.
The advocates urged the State Legislature to immediately advance legislation on the following priorities:
- Health care—Some 600,000 New Jesereyans were uninsured before the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes 80,000 children, most of them children of color, and many more families lost coverage when they lost employment over the past few months. S876 “Cover All Kids”, which has no Assembly counterpart, would expand coverage to all New Jersey children. New Jersey also urgently needs legislation to pick up the Health Insurance Assessment (HIA) before June 30th, which would fund S876 and low or no-cost coverage for uninsured adults on the new state-based health insurance exchange. Missing the June 30th deadline could deprive New Jersey of approximately $430 million in healthcare funding in 2021.
- Emergency Paid Sick Days and additional Worker Protections– As the economy continues to re-open, even more New Jersey workers will need protections from COVID-19 and from employers who subject them to unsafe working conditions. A key part of New Jersey’s road to economic recovery is ensuring workers don’t have to forgo a paycheck when they are ill or need to quarantine, and ensuring their right to refuse work in dangerous conditions during this health crisis. S2453/A4209 would provide workers with additional public health emergency paid sick days to care for themselves and their loved ones during a public health emergency, including quarantine and self-isolation. A4268 would permit certain employees to refuse to work due to unsafe working conditions during a state of emergency or public health emergency. A4153/S2454 would clarify “good cause” for workers to continue to receive unemployment when they stop working because of conditions that violate health and safety standards, the bill also requires that employers who laid off workers during the state of emergency give those workers the “right of first refusal” to return to their previous position for any subsequent reopening. Without these protections, lower income individuals, women, immigrants and people of color who disproportionately make up our frontline and essential workers will struggle to recover economically from the pandemic. Lack of worker protections could also lead to portions of the economy being shut down again in the event of a COVID resurgence.
- Immigrant Disaster Relief Fund—Some 500,000 immigrants have been cut out of pandemic relief efforts, which has placed an enormous financial strain on both their families and the communities who count on their well-being. Families of mixed status have also been denied stimulus payments even if a family member is a citizen but is married to an immigrant without status. S2480/A4171 would create a publicly funded disaster relief fund to replace lost income for immigrants and their families.
- Housing—Rent and mortgages will eventually come due again, and residents and small business owners in New Jersey communities of color will face a financial crisis when it does. A4226 would ensure our most vulnerable renters and homeowners don’t face mass evictions, foreclosures and a further gentrification of their neighborhoods once the state of emergency has been lifted. The bill has passed through the Assembly Housing Committee but still faces major hurdles. The State Legislature must also introduce legislation to provide more direct assistance to renters and homeowners, which would require more revenue and funding sources.
- Consumer Financial Protection– With debt mounting everyday, and no strong consumer protection law in place, many New Jerseyans will face seizure of private property, personal goods and finances by debt collectors. The financial harm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will last far beyond the state of emergency. We lost an opportunity to provide comprehensive consumer finance protections for the most vulnerable among us when S2330, “the Financial Security Act ” was stripped of its most substantial provisions. We also urgently need to pass S2423, which is essential to ensuring creditors do not take every last dime consumers have and push their families into destitution .
- Utilities- Shut offs for electricity, gas, water, or broadband services would pose significant threats to the health, safety and financial well-being of New Jersey residents. State lawmakers should introduce legislation to extend, strengthen and expand shut off moratoriums to protect New Jersey residents from the harm that comes with utility shut offs.
- Unemployment–In July, the additional $600 a week in unemployment benefits provided by the federal government on top of New Jersey’s jobless benefits will end. Many families, in particular families of color will struggle financially without supplemental financial relief from the state when the federal benefits end.
- Recovery Investments– To properly invest in a recovery that includes our communities of color and all low and moderate income residents, state lawmakers need to advance A4175, which has passed the full Assembly but has no Senate companion. This would adopt Governor Murphy’s proposed bond act. Further investment will be needed through revenue raisers such as a millionaire’s tax.
The advocates also urged Governor Murphy and the State Legislature to form a task force to advance these priorities and to discuss further legislation and policies needed to ensure an economic recovery for New Jersey’s most vulnerable families.
“Our state elected officials must act to ensure that NJ’s current health and economic crisis does not transform into homelessness,” said James Williams, Director, Racial Justice Policy at Fair Share Housing. “S4230/A4226 will provide impacted families with the opportunity to recover in a fair and equitable manner. New Jersey will also be taking a step towards a social justice response to COVID-19. With a third of all COVID cases being people of color, and a vast majority of the eviction filings coming from urban areas, legislators can protect our most vulnerable. We will continue to work with other advocates and legislators to ensure all homeowners and tenants are protected. “
“Too many New Jersey families were already having a hard time making ends meet prior to the pandemic,” said Christian Estevez, President of the Latino Action Network. “These same families are now facing eviction as the State moves to reopen. We are in for mass homelessness if legislative action is not taken now to provide income replacement and housing relief for our most vulnerable residents.”
“From the outset of this health crisis, it was clear that the economic aftershocks would extend far beyond the state of emergency and that they would slam the most vulnerable New Jerseyans with a vengeance,” said Beverly Brown Ruggia, Financial Justice Organizer for New Jersey Citizen Action. “New Jersey has not adequately addressed that fact. From this moment on, it is critical for the state to provide meaningful and comprehensive consumer finance protections for all in order to keep people in their homes, prevent expanded debt, protect credit and to give everyone in New Jersey a fighting chance to survive and recover from the COVID 19 economic disaster.”
“We won’t recover from the pandemic economically unless our most vulnerable workers and their families are part of that recovery,” said Yarrow Willman-Cole, Workplace Justice Director for New Jersey Citizen Action. “That means ensuring they have sufficient paid sick days for when they are ill or need to quarantine, and the right to refuse work in dangerous conditions during this health crisis. No one, especially during a pandemic, should have to choose between their livelihood or their life because some employers put profits over their wellbeing.”
“As New Jersey responds to and recovers from the pandemic, state lawmakers must focus on providing real relief and support to the communities who have been harmed the most,” said Brandon McKoy, President of New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP). “An equitable recovery will require lawmakers to make certain decisions that the state has failed to make in the past, specifically raising new revenue by ensuring the state’s wealthiest individuals and biggest corporations pay their fair share in taxes. Only then will New Jersey have the resources necessary to invest in the programs and services we know we need for people to be successful. If lawmakers sincerely want to tackle racism and white supremacy, they must recognize the state budget as a powerful tool to do so.”