How would you spend $1.4B in recovery funds? NJ taking ideas
TRENTON – State officials are taking input on how to spend New Jersey’s remaining COVID recovery funding from the federal American Rescue Plan, and activist groups had no shortage of ideas at a by-invitation hearing held Monday.
New Jersey was allocated $6.24 billion in fiscal recovery funds. Dennis Zeveloff, a policy advisor to Gov. Phil Murphy, said the state has allocated around $4.7 billion, including $1.4 billion in the new budget adopted a month ago, and has roughly $1.4 billion still to be deployed.
“Our sort of North Star here has been to find one-time programs that maximum impact in terms of both spurring COVID recovery and building a stronger and fairer New Jersey,” Zeveloff said.
Anyone with a suggestion for how to spend the money can email it to firstname.lastname@example.org, though speaking slots at the virtual forums are limited. Another hearing will be held Thursday, and more could be added.
Five of the 25 people who pitched the Murphy administration on ways to spend the funds said some of it should be used for hazard pay bonuses for essential workers.
They are suggesting $1,000 for full-time employees and $500 for part-timer ones who had to keep working in person during the pandemic’s first 14 months. Minnesota, Connecticut and Puerto Rico have done something similar.
“While we have been applauded as essential workers and heroes, we have yet to be materially compensated for the risks we have experienced,” said April Fitch, a security officer at Newark Liberty International Airport.
“Whether you call it premium pay, hazardous duty pay, emergency duty pay or anything else, these state employees have earned this,” said Steve Tully, executive director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees New Jersey Council 63.
There were a lot of requests for $100 million to be allocated to one cause or another.
Donna Chiera, president of the American Federation of Teachers New Jersey, said $100 million should be committed to higher education, with a special focus on financially distressed universities in need of help: $25 million each to William Paterson and New Jersey City University, $15 million to Rider and $5 million to Thomas Edison State University.
“Thomas Edison, which services are veterans, is looking to sell a portrait, a painting, a very famous painting for $5 million because they’re going to start looking at how they could shore up their budget,” Chiera said.
Chiera suggested the other $30 million go to community colleges, in payments that would be more closely managed by the state than the support grants to financially distressed schools.
“If we could invest out of federal funds $100 million to renovate a basketball arena at Rutgers and to build an indoor football facility practice field, we could certainly invest $100 million in the true mission of higher education in New Jersey,” she said.
Here’s an incomplete list of other suggestions:
Reduce state debt
Put money into the unemployment fund to reduce business taxes
Language access and cultural competency
Prevention of hate and bias crimes
Student mental health
Recovery checks for immigrants who aren’t legal residents
Expand recreation options in low-income communities