State Director for New Jersey Working Families Sue Altman writes
Our state is in the midst of a crisis, and New Jersey Working Families is proud that Trenton is stepping up to meet this unprecedented challenge.
Our elected officials are setting aside longstanding political and policy disputes to work together to protect residents from this ongoing health emergency.
Thanks to decisive action taken by Gov. Phil Murphy and the Legislature, New Jersey is leading the nation in an aggressive response.
New Jersey Working Families is pleased that legislators worked together to send an initial package of coronavirus-related bills to the governor’s desk and is also pleased that the governor has utilized his executive authority to keep residents safe.
These measures are a step in the right direction. Still, as we move past the initial crisis phase, we must protect our democracy while supporting the working families impacted by this calamity.
While this epidemic is impacting every level of society, low-income families and communities of color are being hit hardest. They have fewer cash reserves, have more needs for housing and food assistance and are more likely to be threatened with layoffs as our economy grinds to a halt in the era of mandated business closures.
Legislation recently signed by Governor Murphy will protect our most vulnerable families by halting all foreclosure proceedings in the state for the duration of the crisis. This commonsense measure, pushed by advocates, means that families already afraid of catching this virus don’t also have to worry about losing their homes.
The governor has also approved a measure shoring up our unemployment compensation program to protect workers whose jobs were lost or whose hours were cut as a result of the crisis. And another measure protects workers from retaliation for taking off work because they have been infected.
These important laws don't just protect working families, they help curb the spread of this dangerous disease by giving people who are sick the financial security they need to quarantine themselves.
Yet continued action from the state will be needed to address the ongoing threat posed by coronavirus — and the economic devastation it is inflicting on working families and our most vulnerable.
We must keep our democracy strong and are encouraged that Governor Murphy has issued an executive order clarifying the procedures for holding elections. Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy, and a society that ensured access to the ballot box even during world wars must continue protecting our right to choose our leaders.
At the same time, a large-scale ramp-up of voting by mail presents unique problems to our state's election infrastructure. This is why the governor must work closely with county election officials to ensure transparency by giving challengers access to the entire voting process — particularly all parts of the tabulation. And we must make sure that ballots — not simply vote-by-mail applications – are sent to every registered voter if the June primary must be mail-only.
Next, we must do more to ensure that workers continue receiving a paycheck even if they're home sick. It's time we take the New Jersey Time to Care Coalition's recommendation and expand New Jersey's paid sick leave law to cover the entire 14-day period infected individuals must self-quarantine while removing the 120-day waiting period before individuals are eligible to take advantage of the benefit.
We must also follow the advice of the New Jersey Policy Perspective and include employee protections to any aid the state provides to businesses. The state's goal in any business assistance program must be to keep existing workers on the payroll.
Finally, as recommended by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, we must reduce the risk to our incarcerated population by releasing – through clemency, commutation or parole – all elderly incarcerated people, unless they pose a clear and imminent risk to the public. The action taken by the New Jersey Supreme Court to release low-level offenders is a good first step.
We must also halt new admissions of youth to juvenile detention and correctional facilities, and remove currently incarcerated youth -- who should be safe at home with their families -- from those facilities.
While the coronavirus pandemic is testing us in ways we never could have predicted, it is also showcasing the best in our state as friends, neighbors and loved ones come together to fight back against this threat.
We don’t know when this pandemic will abate. But what we do know is that we must continue judging all our policy decisions on whether they help keep New Jersey families safe and economically secure during this emergency, and beyond.
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