TRENTON – New Jersey Sixth District Senator Frank Pallone is confident that the American Rescue Plan legislative package will provide much needed funds to aid with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Pallone spoke during Governor Phil Murphy’s February 22 press briefing concerning matters of the coronavirus health crisis.
“This will be primarily focused on crushing the virus in health care and it will be followed, hopefully in April and May by a larger economic package. There are a lot of important things included in this package. The most important one is the direct state aid,” Pallone said.
“For New Jersey that means $6.5 billion in direct state aid and for the towns and the counties it is almost $3 billion and for the schools $2.5 billion. I want you to know that package includes that which is so important to the state and the towns.” Pallone said.
The representative added, “it also includes $1,400 for people who are eligible for the last $600 so that will bring them up to $2,000 direct contribution and also an extension of unemployment until the end of August which goes from $300 to an extra $400 a week,” Pallone added.
In speaking about the effort to crush the virus the official said, “In regards to vaccines $7.5 billion will go back to the state for vaccine distribution. There is an additional $5 billion for vaccine and therapeutic supply chain to get those supplies out to the states in a coordinated national effort.”
It was noted that low-income residents and minorities “are not confident in taking the vaccine so we have to have a public relations campaign. In addition to that we have another $46 billion on testing, contact tracing and mitigation. It is still important to do that. It is not enough to just do the vaccine,” Pallone said.
He noted that $1.75 billion would be going to genomic sequencing. This is for the variant COVID-19 strains. There is also $7.7 billion to hire 100,000 people for the public health workforce as it was noted that were not enough people to do all of what is necessary to do.
Another 100,000 people are needed according to Pallone. “I know all of us continue to be concerned about disparities and there is $25 billion to address health care disparities. This is to get out the vaccine and testing to low-income people and also those who are African American or Latino and others who just aren’t being addressed effectively.”
Vaccines will be going directly to health centers that Pallone said would help in addressing disparities. Pallone also mentioned mental health – that $4 billion would go towards treatment. “We know a lot of people during this crisis are stressed out and there are more problems with opiates and things need to be addressed.”
Pallone credited the governor for having New Jersey’s own state plan for the Affordable Care Act and extended the time where people can sign up until May. “We need to help more people with the Affordable Care Act. Health care costs are going up.”
He also noted that his committee was involved with other significant needs such as a federal energy assistance program which he said has an additional $4.5 billion to help low-come people pay for their energy bill and additional money to help pay for their drinking water and sewer bills. “This is brand new.”
Pallone concluded discussing the digital divide. “We know there are a lot of kids still using virtual learning rather than going to school in person. There is $7.6 billion to help kids connect to schools and libraries from home.”
He added that the new presidential administration was showing “an effort to coordinate crushing the virus nationally and coordinate nationally help for the states and to make a difference so that you guys on the state level are not only your own which you really have been for the most part.”
Governor Murphy said, “all the items you listed are music to our ears, presuming they get through this. We are doing a lot to subsidize our own market place folks to acquire health insurance which heretofore have not been able to do it. We’ve had to limit the income levels to make sure we had the money to help the folks who needed it the most.”
The governor asked what “How do you see your Senate colleagues in terms of getting this prospect through?”
Pallone responded, “I make it a habit of not having a press conference or coming in here to report something unless it is actually going to happen. I would not worry about it. The bottom line is the process is so bureaucratic, we actually passed the budget reconciliation several weeks ago in both houses.”
“Everything I mentioned was all done in coordination with the White House and the Senate. There may be some things on the edges that may be changed but not the things I mentioned and the deadline to have this all wrapped up and have this on the president’s desk is March 14 and the money is supposed to go out very quickly,” Pallone said.
“God knows we’ll take every penny of that and put it to good use,” the governor added.