Gov. Phil Murphy's office is hosting online meetings so residents can suggest ways the state can spend unallocated federal aid. (Danielle Richards for New Jersey Monitor)
About $1 billion remains in the state’s pot of federal coronavirus relief aid, and the state is looking for ideas on how to spend it.
There’s no shortage of suggestions of ways state officials should disburse the unallocated American Rescue Plan funds: hazard pay, increasing funding for public schools, rental assistance, business grants.
Mariana Velasquez, an Elizabeth mother of three and member of Make the Road New Jersey, urged the state to add more money to a fund for undocumented immigrants excluded from pandemic-era relief.
“When I got sick, I lost my job. I didn’t qualify for unemployment, even though I paid my taxes each year. I had to spend my savings to support (my family) and go into debt,” she said.
Velasquez spoke during an online meeting hosted by Gov. Phil Murphy’s office Tuesday at noon (a second event is scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday). During the 90-minute meeting, progressive advocates and residents noted some specific items in this year’s budget — like the $300 million for Rutgers University athletics — while lamenting that funding for some social programs was left out.
Some people who spoke Tuesday suggested funding programs that would help people who need financial support to stop eviction proceedings, or spending more money to improve transit infrastructure.
Felicia Park Rogers, the director of regional projects of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, called on Murphy to spend $360 million on NJ Transit. She noted low-income families in particular rely on public transportation.
Liza Chowdhury, co-founder of nonprofit Reimagining Justice, a community-based anti-violence group, asked Murphy to invest $80 million in her program for the next three years. The money, she said, would go toward case management, mental health aid, violence intervention, and “quality services in Black and brown communities where the gun violence epidemic is happening.”
The New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice urged officials to put $30 million into a language access program that would require the translation of state documents into 15 languages, and $100 million for hazard pay for essential workers. The group’s policy and campaign manager, Laura Bustamante, said New Jersey has a unique opportunity to address systematic public health and economic disparities that were magnified by COVID-19.
“However, this can only be accomplished if we invest in systems that will improve our infrastructure to better serve and reach those who were hardest impacted by the pandemic,” she said.
New Jersey received $6 billion from the American Rescue Plan, and most has been spent or designated already.
About $2.4 billion was appropriated in the state budget Murphy signed on June 29 for the current fiscal year. As part of that plan, Murphy has a $300 million pot of federal money he can allocate in $20 million batches without legislative approval.
Officials said there may be more meetings to discuss how the state should spend unallocated federal aid, but it urged anyone with a suggestion to reach out to [email protected].
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