BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Gov. Phil Murphy has signed into law the “New Jersey COVID-19 Emergency Bond Act,” which authorizes the state to borrow up to $9.9 billion to address the fiscal crisis that has arisen as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In May, New Jersey received $31,511,487 from the second round of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) CARES Act funding allocated by the federal government, in addition to $4 million received in April.
“While this is by no means a silver bullet, the ability to responsibly borrow is essential to meeting our fiscal needs in the coming year,” Murphy said. “We need to provide tax relief to our seniors and middle class, to our schools.”
On June 29, Murphy presented a $7.6 billion spending plan described as a “bare-bones” budget. The spending plan is intended to keep the state’s essential programs functioning, but many programs were cut — including the Senior Freeze and Homestead Benefit programs, both of which offered property tax relief. Whether these programs will be reinstated with the ability to borrow remains to be seen.
Under the law, the state has the authority to issue bonds totaling $2.7 billion for the remainder of the extended Fiscal Year 2020, which runs through Sept. 30, and up to an additional $7.2 billion for the nine-month Fiscal Year 2021 that runs from Oct. 1 through June 30, 2021, for a combined amount of up to $9.9 billion to be issued over the next 11 months.
The state is authorized to borrow either through the issuance of general obligation bonds that can be sold to investors or through the federal government’s Municipal Liquidity Facility, which was established to help states and local governments across the country deal with the fallout from the global pandemic. The state is also authorized to refinance bonds issued pursuant to the bond act.
The law also establishes the Select Commission on Emergency COVID-19 Borrowing, which must approve any proposal to issue bonds prior to their issuance.
Murphy also reminded residents to fill out the Census, which determines federal funding to the states. Currently only 66 percent of New Jerseyans responding to date. Funding is needed now more than ever, said Murphy. Residents can fill out the form online at www.2020census.gov. Filling it out online means that a census taker won’t come knocking on your door
Officials are concerned with a climbing person-to-person transmission rate which has jumped up once again to 1.1 today, July 17, from 0.93 on Wednesday, and 0.70 on June 15. This means that for every one person with COVID, he or she will spread it to at least one other person.
“We need to get this down to slow the spread,” said Murphy.
Three issues could be leading to the higher transmission spread: young people holding graduation parties, flare ups in long-term care facilities, and people coming from states with high numbers of COVID-19 patients. There now 22 states considered hotspots for the transmission of the virus and travelers to New Jersey from those states are being asked to quarantine for 14 days and to get tested.
New Jersey health officials reported 202 new positive cases on Friday, down from the 396 reported on Wednesday, bringing the state total to 176,551.
The positivity rate has decreased to 1.66 percent from tests conducted on July 13, which is the lowest in the nation. For tests conducted on July 11, the positivity rate was 2.13 percent. Tests results are taking longer to process due to increases in cases and testing nationwide, said Murphy.
Hospitalizations dropped on Thursday night, with hospitals reporting 844 patients (387 confirmed positives, 447 awaiting test results) compared to 923 patients on Tuesday. Last night 139 patients were in ICU, with 65 on ventilators.On Tuesday, 151 patients were in critical care and 78 ventilators were in use.
Officials also reported 20 new deaths of which seven occurred over the past week, and 13 in earlier July. On Wednesday, state officials reported 27 new deaths. The state’s death toll is now at 15,684 with 13,710 confirmed COVID-related deaths and 1,974 probable COVID-19 deaths.
Essex County officials reported a one day increase of 53 new cases, now 19,188 cases. The number of new deaths reported is 13 and now totals 1,831.
On Thursday, Montclair health officials reported an increase in total cases remained at 464, and the number of deaths remained at 54.
Residents can get tested every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m.- 12 p.m., at the Essex County Weequahic Park Testing Site. The testing is done by drive-up only. On Tuesday, July 21, 4 to 6 p.m., residents can also get tested at George Inness Annex Parking Lot, 141 Park Ave. Appointments are required – to make an appointment visit www.EssexCOVID.org or call 973-324-9950.