Senate Republicans Share Common Concerns of Constituents & Recommended Solutions with Governor Murphy
The fifteen members of the Senate Republican caucus urged Governor Phil Murphy to listen to the common concerns that have been raised repeatedly by constituents during the seven weeks that New Jersey has bee locked down and to act on proposed recommendations.
“Senate Republicans are working hard to serve the families and communities we represent in all corners of New Jersey during this extremely difficult time. Keeping people safe is the highest priority of government,” said Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean (R-21). “Over the last seven weeks, the members of our caucus have had conversations with tens of thousands of people who are struggling with different aspects of the governor’s executive orders that shut down large segments of the Garden State economy. We believe Governor Murphy should listen to the common concerns we’ve received from our constituents and take immediate action on our recommended solutions.”
The top three concerns raised by our constituents across New Jersey include:
- Fixing the broken unemployment system
- Addressing nonsensical disparities in business restrictions
- Allowing New Jerseyans to access all health care and dental services
Fixing the Broken Unemployment System
The number one concern of constituents who call our offices is their inability to file an unemployment claim or verify continued eligibility with the New Jersey Department of Labor, confusion about the status of their claim, or unacceptably long delays in claim processing. The majority of the claims resulted directly from executive orders that limited or prohibited most business activity in New Jersey.
“More than 930,000 New Jerseyans have lost their jobs, been furloughed, or had work hours reduced since Governor Murphy issued an executive order that closed or severely impacted their employers,” said Senator Declan O’Scanlon (R-13). “I’ve heard from thousands of my constituents that it’s nearly impossible to get through to the Department of Labor by phone, and the process of filing online isn’t any better. The messages filers receive through the website are unclear, and the online systems are often unavailable due to outages. After seven weeks without a paycheck or unemployment check, struggling families don’t understand why it’s taking Governor Murphy so long to make fixing our broken unemployment system a priority. They are right to be upset.”
“Like every other legislator I’ve talked to in recent weeks, my office has been focused almost entirely on helping out-of-work constituents to get the unemployment benefits they’ve earned,” said Senator Chris Connors (R-9). “When most people reach out to us, it’s usually after they’ve exhausted every other avenue to try to file or manage an unemployment claim with the New Jersey Department of Labor on their own. We’re often their last resort for help. Too often, however, legislators are hitting the same brick wall with Labor. Our calls aren’t getting answered either and the department keeps changing the process for legislative offices to submit claims on behalf of our constituents. It’s clear that the Department of Labor and the Murphy Administration need to be much more responsive to constituents and legislators alike.”
“Governor Murphy has said repeatedly that the Department of Labor is quickly plowing through a backlog of unemployment claims, but that’s not what we’re hearing from constituents who have gone weeks without a response since they started the process of filing for benefits,” said Senator Kristin Corrado (R-40). “There’s clearly a major disconnect between what the governor is saying and what people who are trying to file for benefits are actually experiencing. If the volume of repeat calls to my legislative office is any indication, the governor might not be getting the full story of what’s actually happening over at Labor. Many of the same people who had trouble with their claims in March are still having trouble today.”
“The bottleneck in processing unemployment claims seems to be manpower, which is perhaps the simplest issue to address,” said Senator Mike Doherty (R-23). “We have tens of thousands of State workers who are sitting at home collecting paychecks at taxpayer expense while unable to perform their regular jobs. There is no reason they cannot be reassigned temporarily to the Department of Labor and quickly trained to process claims. California is doing something similar. It’s beyond belief this reassignment didn’t start six weeks ago when we started seeing the huge and completely predictable surge in claims that resulted from the closure of most New Jersey businesses. If there are civil service concerns, let’s work together to address them.”
“It was heartbreaking to see so many of our casino families with no money waiting in food lines simply to feed their children because unemployment is a complete disaster,” said Senator Chris Brown (R-2). “Though we are in uncharted territory, we have to remember our tourism industry, based on South Jersey’s beaches, boardwalks, and casinos, generates $45 billion of economic activity to support 10% of all the jobs in the state, produces $5 billion in tax revenue, and provides $260 million to support programs for our seniors, so our quickest path to recovery is to immediately take responsible steps to re-start our economy as quickly as possible so we can put our families back to work.”
Addressing Nonsensical Disparities in Business Restrictions
Our district offices have heard repeatedly from business owners and residents who do not understand some of the nonsensical disparities in restrictions on retail operations that have been in place for weeks as a result of Governor Murphy’s executive orders and related administrative orders.
“I’ve had the same conversation countless times with small business owners in my district who don’t understand why they’ve been singled out for financial ruin by executive orders that fail to recognize their life’s work as ‘essential,’” said Senator Anthony M. Bucco (R-25). “They want to know why you can buy a t-shirt at a big box store, but they’re not allowed to open for business to sell the same shirt from their shop on Main Street, even if they implement recommended precautions to keep employees and customers safe. They don’t understand why they are prohibited from offering curbside pickup of the products they sell using the same no-contact protocols employed by restaurants across New Jersey. These disparities don’t serve a real public health purpose, and they don’t make much sense. If we don’t level the playing field quickly, we’re hearing that many of our Main Street businesses will never reopen. That’s unfair and unacceptable, and it’s time to act before it’s too late.”
“When the governor shut down ‘non-essential’ businesses, he was acting out of an overabundance of caution as New Jerseyans learned about COVID-19 and adjusted their attitudes and lifestyles to minimize both their personal risk and that of vulnerable communities,” said Senator Kip Bateman (R-16). “The simple fact is that we’re all different people than we were seven weeks ago. We’ve all adjusted in ways that would have been unthinkable just months ago. If New Jerseyans can be trusted to shop safely in a grocery store with masks, social distancing, and other safety measures taken, why can’t the governor trust them to visit a sporting goods store, a clothing shop, or countless other small businesses that remain closed? If a business wants to stay shut, that should be their choice. If a consumer doesn’t feel comfortable walking into a certain establishment, that should be their choice too. Most importantly, people deserve the opportunity to be trusted and to make decisions for themselves.”
“Individual employers and industry groups representing tens of thousands of small businesses have been hard at work since day one of the shutdown nearly two months ago producing detailed plans that would allow them to reopen safely as soon as restrictions are lifted,” said Senator Steven Oroho (R-24). “I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of these groups and am awed by the level of detail and thought that has gone into their planning. No one is advocating reopening without appropriate safety protocols in place, but every day we delay another business will never reopen its doors. I urge the governor to heed the advice and expertise of employers and industries that have produced thoughtful, detailed plans to get back to work safely.”
“People are worried that the governor’s executive orders are picking winners and losers in the business community, and it is our small businesses that always seem to be the losers,” said Senator Michael Testa (R-1). “I’m deeply worried that we’ll lose the summer, and Cape May and other Jersey Shore destinations will be devastated financially for years to come if the governor waits for a bureaucratic government committee to tell him what to do. More generally, I have serious concerns about the overreach of executive power we are witnessing. The Constitution should never be put on pause, especially during a crisis, and the Bill of Rights is not above our paygrade. We have a responsibility to protect the rights of every New Jerseyan and to take the least restrictive steps necessary to respond effectively to our public health needs. Unfortunately, I think it’s now clear that the governor has gone too far and should ease restrictions in a measured manner that treats businesses with the same risk profile equally.”
“It doesn’t seem fair when you drive by a shopping center and half of the businesses are open with their employees earning paychecks and the other half are shut with their employees trying to navigate a broken State unemployment system,” said Senator Jim Holzapfel (R-10). “If those stores are able to abide by the same requirements that ‘essential’ businesses currently utilize to operate safely, why are we forcing them to stay shut? The financial destruction that’s being caused by these nonsensical disparities in who is allowed to operate is completely unnecessary. To every New Jerseyan who depends on a paycheck to support their family’s needs, their job is ‘essential.’ Governor Murphy must recognize that.”
Allowing New Jerseyans to Access All Health Care & Dental Services
Constituents and medical professionals continue to express concern to us that New Jersey is focusing almost exclusively on the health risk resulting from COVID-19 at the expense of other serious health concerns that are being ignored. Similarly, patients’ future access to care in their communities is threatened due to current restrictions.
“I’ve had doctors and other medical professionals call me to say they are deeply worried that they’re no longer hearing from patients who are at risk for heart disease, cancer, and many other serious health issues,” said Senator Sam Thompson (R-12). “Many of these life-threatening diseases can’t be diagnosed by telemedicine. Patients need to be seen in an office. Unfortunately, many people hear the state is still locked down and don’t think they can schedule an appointment with their physician. We’re also hearing that older residents are so afraid of contracting COVID-19 that they are not seeking help for other emergent health concerns that may pose an even greater risk. The governor needs to send the message that COVID-19 isn’t the only health concern for which New Jerseyans should seek medical treatment.”
“In the not too distant future, New Jerseyans may lose access to community hospitals and neighborhood medical practices that are struggling to remain financially viable under restrictions placed on them by the governor’s executive orders,” said Senator Robert Singer (R-30). “If the current prohibition on elective surgeries is not repealed immediately, many of these important health care providers will go out of business. That’s a fact. Those surgeries are the difference between many hospitals and practices being profitable and unprofitable. Those that lose money end up shutting down like any other business. Also, a surgery being classified as ‘elective’ doesn’t mean it’s not important to a patient’s health. That classification often means a surgery can be planned in advanced rather than required immediately in an emergency situation. A delayed ‘elective’ surgery could result in a serious health condition worsening, which may result in serious consequences for the patient.”
“As someone trained in the biological sciences who spent decades caring for patients in my dental practice, I have serious concerns about the governor involving himself in the doctor/patient relationship and limiting how a patient may be treated,” said Senator Joe Pennacchio (R-26). “I’ve had hundreds of doctors and even more of my constituents express the very same concerns to me. They don’t believe the governor should unilaterally restrict the medications a doctor may prescribe to a patient or the procedures they may perform. If the governor doesn’t want to ‘practice without a license’ as he has said repeatedly during his public briefings, he shouldn’t. He should lift all of the restrictions he has placed on medical professionals and let them treat their patients as they are trained to do.”
“While the governor may not recognize it, dentistry is much more than just cleaning teeth and filling cavities,” said Senator Gerald Cardinale (R-39). “For example, when I examine patients in my dental practice during their regular check-ups, I perform screenings for oral cancer and identify dangerous infections that can impact the heart. That’s why there is increasing recognition in the medical community that oral and dental health is linked to a patient’s overall health. Some of the conditions that dentists identify can be life threatening if not diagnosed and treated promptly. I’ve also heard from constituents who were partly through complicated multi-day procedures when the governor’s executive orders forced dentists to close their practices, leaving them in limbo for weeks now with unfinished work. The governor should know that dental professionals are trained in infection control procedures that allow for patients to be treated in a manner that is safe for both them and us. It’s important that restrictions are lifted to allow dentists to resume treating their patients.”