Murphy Announces Resumption of Child Care Services, Youth Day Camps and Organized Sports


Last night, Governor Phil Murphy signed and executive order allowing the resumption of child care services, youth day camps, and organized sports. This order rescinds the the emergency child care program, and permits child care centers to resume normal operations on or after June 15, subject to their compliance with COVID-19-specific health and safety standards. Additionally, youth day camps can open on or after July 6, and must comply with COVID-19-specific health and safety standards.

The order also suspends the prohibition on individuals engaging in organized sporting activities as of June 22, provided that activities remain outdoors and are non-contact, and the Department of Health will issue health and safety standards for these activities. High school sports under the jurisdiction of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) may resume only in accordance with reopening protocols issued by NJSIAA, and cannot resume any earlier than June 30.

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Flag Mask

Jersey City Covid-19 Updates 5/29


As emergency restrictions ease, here are the latest Jersey City Covid-19 updates.

If you feel sick and/or believe you may be infected call your healthcare provider and/or the Jersey City Covid-19 hotline at 201-547-5208 before traveling to a hospital.

Outdoor Gatherings

Outdoor gatherings have been increased to permit up to 25 people as follows:

  • The gathering must take place entirely outdoors except for restroom use;
  • Limit capacity to no more than 25 people at all times;
  • Require attendees to be six feet apart at all times, excluding immediate family members, caretakers, household members, or romantic partners;
  • Prohibit contact between attendees, and no organized or contact sports;
  • If the event is an organized gathering, the organizer should demarcate six feet of spacing in the area of the gathering to demonstrate appropriate spacing for social distancing;
  • Limit provided seating to single individuals, spaced six feet apart, and sanitized after each use;
  • Prohibit sharing of any physical items provided and require sanitization before and after each use; and
  • Require contactless pay options wherever feasible.

More information covering recreation can be found in Governor Murphy’s press release here.

Reopening of Businesses and the Economy

New Jersey’s strategic reopening plan is outlined here.

Jersey City Covid-19 Testing

Jersey City is providing free Covid-19 testing to any resident who requests it regardless of symptoms.  Testing is by appointment only.  Proof of residency is required.  Test site will be assigned when appointment is scheduled.  To schedule,  call (201) 547-5535, Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

No appointment is required at the walk up test site at 465 Marin Blvd. Jersey City residents can walk up for Covid-19 testing on Mondays and Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and antibody testing on Mondays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.  Bring proof of Jersey City address.

Starting today, May 29, a second walk up Covid-19 testing site is available for all Jersey City residents with no appointment needed at the Mary McLeod Bethune Life Center, 140 Martin Luther King Drive.  Hours are 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.  Please bring proof of Jersey City address.

Jersey City Business Support

Jersey City businesses seeking reopening support including Covid-19 testing and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) can sign up using this form.

Restaurants seeking additional outdoor seating on sidewalks and parking lanes can sign up using this form.

Parking

All parking regulations have been restored and in effect.

33 school parking lots have been opened throughout each corridor of the city for residents to park their vehicles during the State of Emergency.

Click here for map of JC school parking lots.
Click here for list of JC school parking lots.

There is free, off-street parking is available at Old Colony Parking Lot, Brunswick School, and 235 Pavonia. Click the links to sign-up.

Please see our prior Jersey City Covid-19 updates.

Header: Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

 

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J.C. School Board Prepares for September Reopening


A week after voting to adopt a $736 million budget for the 2020-2021 school year, the Jersey City Public Schools met to discuss preparations for the September reopening of the district’s 39 schools. Since schools closed March 16, teachers have been instructing students via the internet. They’ll continue doing so until Governor Phil Murphy authorizes schools to reopen.

At Thursday’s virtual meeting, the board’s nine trustees addressed special education classes’ returning to A. Harry More School and bringing in professional cleaning services to help district custodians get the schools ready for the fall. In addition, Superintendent Franklin Walker announced that due to Covid-19 restrictions, all June graduation ceremonies will be held virtually.

Students With Special Needs

Jersey City parent Barbara Hildner opened the public comments portion of the meeting to say she was concerned about  students with disabilities’ moving back to A. Harry Moore School. Last year, the students were relocated to Gerald R. Dynes Regional day school when a portico at A. Harry Moore School collapsed, halting classes until repairs were made. Once A. Harry Moore School reopens, only two of its five floors will be used for classroom instruction, Hildner said, crowding students into already cramped classrooms. There also seems to be an issue with meals for students on special diets: They aren’t getting them.

“Everybody agrees that the school cannot be successfully housed at Regional day (school), and there’s a plan to bring A. Harry Moore back to its original building, but the problems will move to A. Harry Moore if it’s relocated to just two floors,” Hildner said. “The plan is to have the same food service that provides meals throughout the Jersey City school system provide meals for A. Harry Moore students, (but) they are unable to accommodate any of the students who have dietary needs. That’s a problem that’s moving from Regional day to A. Harry Moore.”

Superintendent Walker responded by saying that A. Harry Moore School had been fully evaluated and cleared to reopen in September:

“We set up a timeline and currently that timeline is in place. We are on pace to develop a structure to provide full services and be fully functional to students at A. Harry Moore. As we move through this process, we are still tweaking some of our plans to make it the best circumstance for A. Harry Moore students.”

Vice President Gina Verdibello asked that the plan for A. Harry More School be made available to the board for review, and Superintendent Walker assured the board he would send them each a copy.

Cleaning Schools A-Z

Bayonne resident Mary Cruz called in to share her concern about mold and fungus growing in the closed school buildings. She recommended hiring a professional cleaning service so that all buildings are safe for children and staff. Cruz said: “Mold is the result of the air conditioning system being shut down since March. Take this time to bring in professionals to work with our custodial staff to clean each building to prevent students and staff from becoming ill.”

Every year a plan is put in place to ensure the entire school district’s buildings are clean, sanitary, and healthy for anyone who enters, Superintendent Walker said. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, every building will be thoroughly cleaned before the September reopening.

“Our top priority is the health and welfare of our students,” Superintendent Walker said. “That’s not something were going to take for granted. We have a custodial stuff in place for when school reopens. We also want to make available a (professional) cleaning service. As we did in the past, we will have air quality control measures that are taken where we test air quality. Some places we even test the walls, take chips from the walls to make sure they’re safe.”

Board trustee Gerald Lyons addressed custodial concerns. School custodians who have been cleaning the buildings told him they wanted Superintendent Walker and the board to know that when they do come up with a cleaning plan, if additional services are needed, the custodial staff is both trained and willing to do what’s necessary.

Bridging the Divide with Remote Learning

During the pandemic, teachers have been teaching remotely with the help of guidelines and tips from the state board of education. While this has allowed classes to continue uninterrupted, it has exposed serious inequities within the district’s student population and a significant conceptual flaw : Not all families in Jersey City have computers and internet access at home; therefore not all children could immediately or easily participate.

“Remote learning will never take the place of in-person instruction, but there are things we can do that are beneficial to the learning process that support remote learning,” Superintendent Walker said, referring to the board of education’s recent distribution of 3,500 Chromebooks (laptops) to students in Grades 3 to 12.

School Schedule for 2020-2021

Jersey City School Board Virtual Meeting Thursday, May 21, 2020

Schools will not be open in the summer, Superintendent Walker said. There will be an enrichment program for students and professional development programs for teachers. Deputy Superintendent of Schools Dr. Norma Fernandez announced that teachers would return to school on September 8 and students on September 10. The last day of the 2020-2021 school year will be June 25.

Virtual Graduations

 All commencement celebrations in Jersey City public schools will be virtual, Superintendent Walker said. To celebrate Jersey City’s graduating students, the Loew’s theater in Journal Square will honor them on its marquee.

Superintendent Walker advised parents, teachers and school board members to be patient as the board of education makes preparations to reopen the schools.

“We need to be a little patient to help students to succeed and prepare for September,” Superintendent Walker said. “We have committees in place for the closing and reopening, (and) we are all meeting and exchanging ideas, but the pandemic has changed everything. As soon as we receive the guidelines (to reopen) I will make them available to the public.”

The next virtual school board meeting will be held Thurs, June 25 at 6 p.m.

For previous reporting on A. Harry Moore school, click here.

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Coronavirus Exposes Jersey City’s Unsung Heroes


There are many unsung heroes on the front lines battling the Covid-19 pandemic in Jersey City and the rest of Hudson County. Much has been written about the emergency medical technicians and paramedics who together with doctors, nurses and healthcare staffers have been risking their lives on a daily basis to battle the coronavirus. But there’s another line of defense laboring mostly in civilian garb out of the limelight, providing equally valuable public service as paid staff and volunteers.

Hundreds of these valiant men and women are part of the Hudson County Community Networking Association. Like all CNAs, the Hudson County CNA connects local community leaders and social service professionals so they can share — and thereby leverage — ideas, information and resources to produce a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Hudson County CNA team leaders met monthly; now all that’s changed.

“Since Covid-19, the networking association has streamed three meetings on Facebook for members to share up-to-date information,” said Steve Campos, a leader of the association. (Campos’ day job is community resource director for Hudson Partnership Care Management Organization, which provides care for children in Hudson County who face mental health challenges.) “Day-to-day, the networking association also communicates via a private Google group. There, all types of social service and community assistance are provided.”

Jersey City Together is one such service provider. A virtual trove of unsung heroes. Led by teacher-turned-organizer Frank McMillan, JCT is a coalition primarily of interfaith religious institutions throughout the city that tackles issues involving affordable housing, public education, public safety and criminal justice — with a united voice.

“We are listening to points of pain from our communities of faith,” McMillan said. “We try to help them in responding to crises.”

In response to Covid-19, faith leaders from Jersey City Together have written to local apartment building landlords urging them to comply with Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order on rent forgiveness (under which renters can ask landlords to apply their security deposits toward rent that they are behind on or that they foresee having  difficulty paying in the future.)

Jersey City Together members have also been advocating for added health protections for inmates and corrections officers in the state’s jails and prisons, in particular for coronavirus testing.

Lenny Martinez and Frank Gilmore are two other arrows in Campos’s quiver. Both men help kids deemed “at risk” and their family members deal with the stress of home life during the pandemic.

Lenny Martinez is a resource development specialist with the state’s Children’s Protective Services. He talks directly to caseworkers and to staff within the juvenile justice system to help youths negotiate disruptive family situations or the maze of available support programs;

Frank “Educational” Gilmore, photo by Aaron Morrill

Frank Gilmore is a city recreation aide and coach by day. By night (and weekends), he runs the Educational Gilmore Community Learning Center in Greenville, where he helps steer kids away from drugs and alcohol and where kids can go for tutoring or to just relax. Gilmore founded the center in 2018 after his own remarkable comeback from a life of crime on the streets.

There’s more.

HOPES Community Action Partnership is full of unsung heroes. Founded in the mid 1960s as the Hoboken Organization against Poverty and Economic Stress, HOPES CAP runs a plethora of anti-poverty programs for area residents. Since the state’s stay-at-home directive was issued in March, it has focused on education, health, and hunger, according to Evelyn Mercado, HOPES CAP director of community programs. For instance, staff helps ensure youngsters in low-income households get plugged into online classes so they can keep up with their schoolwork; they have provided isolated senior citizens with access to an assortment of online enrichment programs, buoying their spirits and helping them feel less lonely. (The group has identified close to 200 elderly clients in Hudson County including 40 in Jersey City who do not own computers.)

HOPES CAP also managed to rustle up masks and gloves for its more vulnerable clients and deliver food to coronavirus sufferers unable to leave their homes. Two clients in particular, a breast cancer survivor and her husband come to Mercado’s mind. The convalescing woman was dependent on her husband, but he had been deemed an “essential worker” and therefore was unavailable to care of her during the day. The two were struggling to cope — but thanks to a cash donation made by a retired city employee, HOPES CAP was able to arrange for weekly grocery deliveries to the couple.

“I end up crying three times every day,” Mercado said. “I’m constantly worried about our clients.

Since April 2019, Jersey City Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, with help from her husband Anthony, has operated a food pantry in Greenville, part of AngelaCares, the nonprofit organization McKnight founded in 2011 to provide an array of social services to senior citizens.

Recently, the pantry served approximately 150 residents in one week, up from 80 to 100 per week before the pandemic began. Volunteers staff the pantry at 696 Ocean Ave., off Carteret Avenue, on Fridays. Each senior typically gets a packet of canned goods, produce, rice, macaroni, spaghetti and an array of non-perishables.

“We start at 2 p.m. and stay open until the food runs out,” McKnight said. “Over the past month, the need has increased since families are spending more time at home.”

Also keeping McKnight busy during April was a month-long emergency fundraiser sponsored by Angela Cares, which netted  $50,000 for the pantry. That bought groceries and personal protective equipment (such as masks) to about 2,500 senior citizens, McKnight added.

Hector Vargas offering a meal he’d made to homeless individual, courtesy Hector Vargas’s Facebook page

But another unheralded Greenville resident who perhaps epitomizes heroism is Hector Vargas, a Marine Corps veteran who, until the health crisis, had been working as a census-taker while searching for more permanent employment.

As the pandemic lingered Vargas made it his personal mission to befriend and feed the homeless and other folks in need. He’d prepare several meals at home, pack them in plastic bags and balance them from the handlebars of his bicycle, then  pedal up and down the city’s north-south routes as far south as Bayonne and as far north as Union City giving the meals out. At times, friends chipped in cash to help pay for the food.

“I saw a lot of people in wheelchairs living on the street,” Vargas said.

Councilman-at-large Daniel Rivera, who has worked alongside Vargas distributing food to the homeless in Journal Square and in city-sponsored cleanup projects, said: “Hector was one of the few people out here extending himself from the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis.”

“He’s a two-time Afghani-Iraq veteran who has dedicated himself to his community,’’ said Rivera, also a military service veteran.

It appears that Vargas has alienated some of his neighbors who contributed to his efforts.  In text messages to JCT, some questioned his sincerity and temperament.

Councilman Rivera, however, chalks it up to style.  “He can be rough around the edges and very outspoken but his heart is genuine.”

Unfortunately, Vargas himself now faces a setback. His bike, a gray and black 15-gear Schwinn 27.5, was stolen April 28 —  and he’d had it only three months. “I was helping a woman carry some boxes into the West Side post office, and when I came out, my bike was gone,” he recounted.

Now might be the time for our readers to come to Vargas’ aid.

For more on Covid-19-related volunteer opportunities, check out Volunteer Jersey City,  Jersey Cares, and NJ.gov.

For more information on the impact of the coronavirus on Jersey City, please see Jersey City Times’ news section.

 

Header: Hector Vargas, photo by Aaron Morrill

This article was updated on May 27, 2020

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Vaccination

Pandemic-Related Decline in Childhood Vaccines Prompts State Plea to Parents


Department of Health also urges pediatricians to devise new office protocols to keep patients and parents safe from coronavirus, reduce fear factor

This story was written and produced by NJ Spotlight. It is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit njspotlight.com.

Full story link – HERE.

By Lilo H. Stainton

With a dramatic decline in childhood vaccine rates during the coronavirus pandemic, New Jersey officials urged parents to ensure their kids are properly immunized to protect them from measles, mumps and other infectious diseases.

State Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli also encouraged pediatricians to get creative in how they offer vaccines and other well-child visits — like setting up an offsite immunization clinic or providing curbside vaccinations.

Persichilli said data compiled through the New Jersey Immunization Information System shows a 40% decline in vaccines for children under 2 years and a 60% drop in inoculations for those over 2 years between March 1 and April 20, when compared with the same period last year.

The numbers were not surprising to clinicians, given the decline in preventive-care visits overall during the coronavirus pandemic — a situation some say is likely resulting in patients with more critical medical concerns. Elective surgeries were allowed to restart yesterday, under certain conditions, after the state suspended these procedures two months earlier.

Downside of keeping kids home

“While staying at home has slowed the spread of the virus, it has also resulted in delays and decreases in the number of children getting recommended vaccines,” Persichilli said at Tuesday’s media briefing.  “The need to protect against serious childhood diseases like whooping cough doesn’t disappear during the COVID-19 public-health emergency.”

New Jersey is not alone when it comes to the decline in inoculations. According to a May 15 report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doctors in the United States ordered and administered roughly 400,000 fewer vaccines during the first 15 weeks of this year, versus 2019. The steepest decline in immunizations began after a national emergency was declared on March 13, the CDC found.

Gov. Phil Murphy declared a public emergency for New Jersey on March 9 — two days after the state announced its first coronavirus case — and soon after closed schools and workplaces and strictly limited travel. COVID-19 has now been diagnosed in more than 155,700 residents, including 11,200 who have died.

Dr. Puthenmadam Radhakrishnan, a pediatrician in Mercer County and treasurer of the New Jersey chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), said this downward trend in vaccines was not surprising, given how many small practices have closed or severely cut back their hours during the pandemic. And when offices were opened, they saw far fewer patients, he added.

“People just didn’t want to come to the office,” Radhakrishnan said. Some pediatricians were seeing half or even a quarter of the normal patient load, he noted.

Radhakrishnan said telehealth visits have been a huge benefit for providers — enabling the doctor to see the young patient and the parent’s reaction — but these only goes so far. “This has been great, but it doesn’t help us with immunizations,” he said.

Changing up vaccination protocols

Some practices have already made adjustments to their protocols, he explained, like having families wait in their car until they are called into an exam room — eliminating the potential of becoming infected in the waiting room. Others have set up immunization stations in their parking lot, he added.

“There are a lot of changes being made,” Radhakrishnan said, encouraging parents to call their pediatrician and discuss the options.

While AAP guidelines call for certain vaccines to be administered by certain ages, Radhakrishnan said that, if needed, these can also be given safely in the months or year that follows. The big danger is leaving the child unprotected, he said.  “It means we have a lot of catchup to do,” he added.

Persichilli said another safe option for providers is to split their day to schedule well-child visits — including inoculations — in the morning and sick patients in the afternoon. She also suggested collaborating with other providers to create satellite locations for immunizations, away from the normal office where infection risk may be greater. If pediatricians have limited capacity, she urged them to prioritize vaccines for children under age 2.

“Ensuring access to vaccinations is an important part of maintaining the public’s health,” Persichilli said. Last year, there were more than 1,200 cases of measles diagnosed nationwide, she added, including 19 in New Jersey.

New Jersey now requires children receive more than a dozen vaccines, some with booster shots, by the time they attend grade school; state data from the last year shows more than 94% met these requirements. The remainder — nearly 33,000 children — received medical or religious exemptions to the law.

State lawmakers pushed to eliminate religious exemptions, which have become increasingly popular in recent years, in 2019 and early 2020, prompting massive protests in Trenton by vaccine opponents. Legislative leaders were unable to secure enough votes to end the exemption and cancelled a vote on the bill but have also vowed to revisit the issue.

 

Header: Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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Editorial: Time to Unite Against GrubHub?


If you haven’t heard, online food ordering platforms like GrubHub and UberEats are in the political doghouse. Not since the financial crisis have we seen as much legislation aimed at a single industry. Cities including New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Seattle and Los Angeles have enacted emergency legislation limiting the fees these companies can charge their client restaurants. On May 7, citing the declared state of emergency, Mayor Fulop, supported by the city council, followed suit with an executive order drastically limiting such fees.

The order will undoubtedly save local restaurants money, but here’s the rub: Once the state of emergency ends, so, too, will the executive order. The fees will return to their previous predatory levels. The problem of strangulating online delivery fees is a long-term problem. It needs a long-term solution.

The moral and political case for a limit on online ordering platforms is compelling. With many restaurants completely closed under the state of emergency, those that remain open are relying solely on takeout and delivery business. This has provided a bonanza for GrubHub and the like, which, armed with piles of venture capital, have gobbled up an increasing amount of your favorite restaurant’s online business, charging anywhere from 15% for simply taking the order to 35% for handling the actual delivery. For a struggling restaurant already hobbled by Covid-19, that’s real money. Before the pandemic, the high fees paid to these middle men were burdensome, but at least restaurants were operating on all cylinders and could rely on more profitable dine-in service and (for some) alcohol sales to help cover fixed expenses. Now, for many eateries these excessive fees are posing an existential threat.

These conditions set the table (no pun intended) for local politicians to step in to protect small businesses from rapacious Silicon Valley billionaires. And here, Jersey City lawmakers outdid themselves, imposing a draconian 10% across-the-board-cap on the online platforms. Thus, where previously GrubHub would pocket nine dollars on a thirty-dollar order, their cut is now three dollars. Now imagine that the order has to go from Downtown to Danforth Avenue in Greenville. You don’t need an MBA to know that three dollars isn’t enough to cover the cost of a driver, his car and his gas. While some services have knuckled under likely in the hope the storm will pass, UberEats has come out swinging and imposed a three-dollar “executive order” fee on Jersey City delivery customers, proving the adage that “there’s no free lunch” (again, no pun intended).

Those of us who own restaurants certainly appreciate the mayor and council’s efforts. However, the ten percent cap isn’t sustainable. And it’s unlikely that the online ordering platforms will put up with these restrictions for long. Under normal circumstances, Jersey City’s executive order would be patently illegal. The U.S. Constitution explicitly prevents a state or municipality from “impairing the obligation of contracts” such as exists between the online delivery platforms and their restaurant clients. Governors and mayors are given a little more leeway during states of emergency. According to Professor Marc Pfeiffer of Rutgers University Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, UberEats or GrubHub could haul the city before a judge. “A judge would decide whether the city had exceeded its authority. The city would have to justify it,” Pfeiffer said.

One need only recall the city’s ill-fated chain-store ordinance that banned the Gap and its brethren from large swaths of Downtown. Four years after the law’s enactment, a building owner dragged the city into federal court claiming the law was unconstitutional and a “publicity stunt.” The city folded, choosing neither to defend nor rewrite the law.

There is a solution, however. And one that could protect local restaurants from predatory fees while still providing delivery service to the entire city long after Covid-19 is a bitter memory: Mayor Fulop could help Jersey City’s restaurants unite and — with the bargaining power of a large group — negotiate lower prices with Grubhub and its peers. For now, let’s call it the “Jersey City Restaurant Co-op.” Sure, it would take buy-in from local restaurants and not a little bit of the mayor’s time and energy. But consider the potential gains. The co-op could decide to give all its business to one provider (say DoorDash) in exchange for better pricing. Or it could do what restaurants in Fort Collins, Colorado did and create their own platform (called NoCo Nosh), thereby circumventing the third party apps altogether. Either way, you have a long-term solution to the problem.

No doubt: Organizing this would take resources and credibility. It would take the city’s involvement and, yes, dedication of the mayor. But during Mayor Fulop’s tenure he has successfully negotiated with any number national businesses to provide services for Jersey City — think Citibike, Via and Airbnb. This kind of innovative public-private partnering is his sweet spot. A deal like this would significantly strengthen Jersey City’s restaurants and create a model for the country. It’s certainly worth a try. How ‘bout it, Mr. Mayor?

Note:  The writer, in addition to being founder and publisher of Jersey City Times, owns Two Boots pizzeria in Jersey City.

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education apple

No Immediate Cuts in State Aid to Schools in Murphy’s Revised 2020 Spending Plan


But increases to direct aid, as well as boosts to preschool and special education, end up on cutting-room floor

This story was written and produced by NJ Spotlight. It is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit njspotlight.com.

Full story link – HERE.

By John Mooney

As he scrambles to close a multibillion-dollar budget hole, Gov. Phil Murphy will likely face little choice but to take a sizable sum out of New Jersey’s public schools, which represents the single largest slice of state spending.

But at least for now, schools have been left largely spared.

On Friday, the Murphy administration presented its revisions to the fiscal 2020 budget in the face of COVID-19, announcing more than $5 billion in overall cuts and deferrals across state government.

That included more than $330 million Murphy and state treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio pulled back in proposed increases in state school aid for the next academic year and all funding for preschool expansion and for extraordinary special-education costs.

But they did not call for a cut in existing direct aid and said districts would get the same overall amount they saw in 2019-2020.

Allotments to be announced

An administration official said precise allotments for each district would be announced soon, once the state’s school-funding formula was run with the same amounts used in fiscal 2020.

That likely means districts that stood to gain under the formula last year would do so again, and those already facing cuts would also would need to make them.

“The formula is being rerun,” the official said in a background briefing with reporters on Friday. “So the districts that are overfunded, the reductions are going to follow the statutory reductions, and those overfunded amounts will be reallocated to the districts who are underfunded. But no additional funding is being pumped into those underfunded districts.”

School leaders over the weekend were still waiting for details from the administration to judge how their districts would fare, but several were relieved that there weren’t any blanket cuts in the offing, at least not yet.

“Some expected the kind of 5% across-the-board cuts that we all experienced back in ‘09 and ‘10,” said Elisabeth Ginsburg, director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, representing more than 100 mostly suburban districts. “Needless to say, those individuals are relieved.”

Others said they were also pleased that Murphy was at least following the formula under the state’s School Funding Reform Act, albeit at a lower level.

“It is encouraging to learn that the governor appears committed to school funding that remains aligned to SFRA, even if on a proportional basis,” said Mike LaSusa, superintendent of Chatham Schools. “When Gov. Christie slashed funding a decade ago, he did so with zero relationship to the formula and that led to a decade of haphazard funding.”

What will September bring?

Nonetheless, he and others said big questions remain going forward, including what the precise figures will be and, of course, what schools will look like come September.

“If, for example, we learn by the end of June what we can expect in terms of funding, and we also learn that it will not be possible to run athletics in the fall, that would help us make sound decisions now,” LaSusa said.

“We all understand there is pain ahead; the sooner the governor can inform us of the particulars of the pain, the better we can manage it,” he added.

A big question also surrounds what happens after this extended fiscal year ends and the next begins.

Murphy is slated to announce a new state budget for fiscal 2021 in late August. In an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” this weekend, he said schools would surely be among those facing cuts and possible layoffs if the state does not see significant relief from the federal government.

“This includes potentially laying off educators, firefighters, police, EMS, health care workers,” Murphy said. “This is not abstract. This is real.”

David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, said the federal government — even beyond this year — will need to step up to avert a further crisis in the schools.

“Flat state funding will get us through the next few months, coupled with $400 million in federal emergency funds to help reopen schools safe and ready for students,” he said in an email yesterday.

“But the forecast of big cuts in state school aid to be backfilled with new rounds of federal crisis funds is not a viable long-term strategy,” he wrote. “The only solution is a major, recurring infusion of federal funds over the next three to five years, to be reduced only when the state revenue sufficiently recovers to make up the shortfall.”

 

Header: Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

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City Hall of Jersey City

Mayor Fulop Announces Plan to Help Local Businesses Reopen


Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop unveiled a plan on Fri., May 22, to help local businesses reopen once Governor Murphy lifts restrictions instituted in March that currently prohibit all but “essential” firms from operating as normal.

“After two months of these businesses being closed, we want to do our part to make sure that local businesses have the ability to re-engage their customers and build trust,” Mayor Fulop said.

While at times alluding to “local businesses” and at times mentioning “local small businesses,” the announcement did not make clear the size company that would benefit. Two parts of the program apply to companies in all industries; one element is designed to help independent restaurants specifically.

The first prong of the plan involves medical testing. The city will provide owners and employees with two tests: one for the virus itself and one for antibodies to it. Unsaid was where the testing would take place, how many people the city anticipates will need the exams, and how many individuals the city has the ability to test every day.

Also being offered “once the business is tested,” according to the mayor’s office, are  masks, disposable gloves, and sanitizer. Quantities will vary depending on the company’s staff size.

Leaders within the Departments of Public Safety; Health and Human Services; and Housing and Economic Development developed the plan after conducting large focus group Zoom meetings with local business owners.

“We have been building a reserve of PPE for our employees, but after listening to local businesses say they are having challenges obtaining PPE, we feel that using our supply to help local businesses is a good use of our current supply so that these businesses can open quickly,”said Public Safety Director James Shea.

Because restaurants and bars have suffered disproportionately from the pandemic — and will be amongst the last businesses anywhere to resume operating at full capacity — the city has also conceived a way to help this specific segment of the local economy.

For restaurants specifically, we want to offset any reduction that the Governor may implement with indoor restriction by allowing restaurants to have more seating outdoor,” Mayor Fulop said.

Restaurants have always been able to apply for outdoor café licenses. Now the city is waiving fees for those licenses (which cost several hundred dollars per year); suspending the requirement that the seating be bounded by fencing; and letting the areas take up slightly more sidewalk space than before. These concessions are being made to offset new restrictions restaurants must temporarily abide by stipulating that all tables (inside and out) be six feet apart. The outdoor cafes must also leave a pedestrian corridor along the sidewalk that is at least five feet wide.

Applicants who cannot meet one or both of these requirements are advised to contact the Jersey City Division of Engineering, Traffic and Transportation “to assist with an alternate plan” that may involve letting restaurants use parking spaces for seating. For the first time, restaurants may apply for or renew a sidewalk café license online.

For more coverage of Jersey City’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, please see Jersey City Times’ news section.

 

Header: Jersey City Times file photo

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Council Approves 5G Ordinance and Avoids Lawsuit


Third-party Restaurant Delivery Fees, Katyn Memorial Statue Also Discussed

The Jersey City Council approved a 5G ordinance, thereby avoiding a pending lawsuit by Cross River Fiber LLC.  In a pre-emptive move, Council President Joyce E. Watterman motioned to hold a vote on the 5G ordinance that had been tabled at the council’s May 6 meeting.

In Wednesday’s meeting, members also tabled until June 10 an ordinance to limit fees set by third-party food delivery services and passed a resolution to introduce the 2020-2021 budget for the Exchange Place Alliance Special Improvement District.

5G Poles for AT&T

5G on Mercer

Worker Installs 5G Tower on Mercer Street, photo by Aaron Morrill

The 5G ordinance gives Cross River Fiber LLC(of ZenFi Networks) the right to install 5G telecommunications utility poles and to upgrade existing 5G poles throughout Jersey City for its client AT&T.

Council President Joyce E. Waterman, who motioned for the ordinance to be taken off the tabled agenda, clashed with Councilman at Large Rolando R. Lavarro, Jr., who objected to the rush to vote, and Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano who called the ordinance “a disgrace.”

“We would normally have a conversation before we vote,” Councilman Lavarro said. “You’re trying to rush this vote through. Cities should not be led by carriers.”

The council had tabled the ordinance at its May 6 meeting for further research, a move that prompted Cross River Fiber LLC to file a lawsuit in federal court in opposition, thus pressuring the council to cast their vote. Corporate Counsel Nick Strasser said that if the council “un-tabled” the ordinance, Cross River Fiber would drop the lawsuit.

Sympathetic to the council’s concerns, Strasser cited the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that states that the Federal Communication Commission has final word on safety measures and other standards in 5G telecommunications deployment. The legislation also states the “regulation of the placement, construction, and modification” of wireless facilities by any state or locality “shall not unreasonably discriminate among providers” and “shall not prohibit the provision of personal wireless services.”

 

“You may be frustrated by that, but that’s how the law stands,” Strasser said.

“All anybody has to do is go on Google and look at scientists that say (5G) can cause danger to people,” Boggiano said. “There are many scientists that disagree totally with the FCC. I think it’s a disgrace that we have to go along with this.”

Displeased with its lack of authority in the matter, and with questions about 5G’s safety to Jersey City residents, the council unanimously agreed to send a resolution to Congressmen Albio Sires and Donald Payne and to Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker for their support to give municipal governments added authority over telecom companies’ practices in their districts.

In the public comments portion of the meeting, Zoe Berg, the Project Director for the non-profit Americans for Responsible Technology, called in. Her office, a national science-based environmental health organization in New York, works with municipalities across the country. It helps protect residents’ interests when dealing with the telecom industry’s deployment of wireless equipment in public rights of way, she said.

“The Cross River lawsuit is a typical intimidation tactic employed by the telecom industry,” Berg said. “I’ve seen it all across the country. It’s a clear sign of bad faith and the worst possible legal outcome is that the city must allow the vendor to proceed as planned. There are effective measures this council can take to protect residents.”

Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh said the concerns he’s hearing about 5G were the same concerns he heard when 3G came out and again when 4G was the new high-speed technology. Other countries have 5G, Saleh said. South Korea has 5G and the fastest internet on the planet.

“We don’t have a leg to stand on here, legally, and I don’t think it’s in our best interest to continue to delay this in the guise of fees or research,” Councilman Saleh said. “This council approved 5G twice. It’s already here. The court isn’t stupid. You guys approved it before and, now you’re having this dialogue.”

Ward E Councilman James Solomon wanted more time for revisions before council members cast their vote.

“Could we spend two more weeks making more revisions?” Councilman Solomon asked. “We potentially could have. A couple more weeks couldn’t have harmed us.

The council approved the 5G ordinance in a 6-3 vote with Councilman Boggiano, Solomon and Lavarro dissenting.

Tabling Take-Out Fee Freeze

The second reading of an ordinance to restrict fees on third-party food delivery services during a declared emergency was tabled in a motion by Councilman Solomon.

“We talked about taking our time to get it right,” Councilman Solomon said. “We have the executive order in place. We can introduce changes at the next meeting.”

The council voted 8-0-1 with Councilman Robinson abstaining to avoid a conflict of interest since he’s the owner of the Light Rail Café in Jersey City.

The Statue Stays

Katyn Memorial

Katyn Memorial

The resolution introducing the 2020-2021 budget of the Exchange Place Alliance Special Improvement District (EPASID) came under scrutiny by Councilman Boggiano, who wanted to pull the resolution “because there are a lot of questions on this,” he said.

“It should be pulled,” Councilman Boggiano said. He shared concern that EPASID might move the Katyn Memorial statue from Exchange Place. “The property is publicly owned by the city. They want to use part of it for the hotel. That part of the city belongs to all the people of Jersey City.”

Council President Watterman, who sits on the EPASID board, invited members of the council to attend one of its meetings.

“When it comes to the Exchange Place Special Improvement District, it’s always a challenge,” Council President Watterman said. “They go through the same process as every other SID. I invite the council to see for yourself. They’re not hiding anything. The statue is not being moved. The people want to make the place nicer. Everybody has a right to use Exchange Place.”

The council passed the resolution with a vote of 7-0-2 with Councilman Boggiano and Council President Waterman abstaining.

The next city council meeting will be held virtually on Wed, June 10 at 6 p.m.

To view the meetings, go to the council’s page on the city’s website.

 

Header: Screen shot of meeting

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Tennis Court

Hudson County Tennis Courts to Partially Reopen on Saturday, May 23


The Hudson County Improvement Authority announced yesterday that tennis courts in Lincoln and Braddock Parks would partially reopen on Saturday, May 23.

Players will be subject to numerous restrictions including having to wear face masks and gloves while playing and having to schedule appointments over the phone. The courts will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nearby bathrooms will be closed.

Appointments may be made by calling  201-362-8483 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

For the full set of rules, please visit the authority’s website.

 

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