The new appropriations act moving through Congress is slated to include hundreds of millions of dollars up and down the state, according to releases from many members of the state’s Congressional delegation.
Money ranges from a temporary offshore drilling ban, to money for upgrades to the state’s unemployment system, and relief for families hit by Superstorm Sandy nearly a decade ago.
The budget would go into effect on Oct. 1 and cover national expenses for the next 12 months. It was approved in a party-line 219-208 vote in the House of Representatives on July 29, with all 10 New Jersey Democrats supporting it and the two Republicans voting in opposition.
Rep. Frank Pallone, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, touted the one-year offshore drilling ban put into the budget, as a means to protest the state’s massive coastal economy.
Figures like Pallone and Gov. Phil Murphy argue that the Jersey Shore tourism sector, which brings in an annual $45 billion each year and tens of millions of annual visitors, faced an existential threat from the Trump administration’s efforts to open up the nation’s coasts to offshore drilling.
New Jersey’s commercial fishing industry meanwhile generates over $7.9 billion annually, according to Pallone’s office, and could also face severe harm.
“An oil spill would threaten the economic vitality of the Jersey shoreline and communities up and down the Atlantic Coast,” reads a July 29 statement from Pallone.
The budget includes billions of dollars toward the Gateway tunnel, according to the office of Rep. Mikie Sherill from Montclair, a commuter-heavy suburb of Manhattan.
That includes $2.7 billion toward Amtrak – of which $1.2 billion would go toward the Northeast Corridor – $2.5 billion for in Capital Investment Grants, $626 million for new Passenger Rail Improvement, Modernization and Expansion Grants, and $500 million toward rail infrastructure grants.
There’s $1 billion that would go toward “small business aid,” which would be run by the federal Small Business Administration “to ensure our local economic recovery can continue,” Sherrill’s office continued.
And there’s $118 million that would “help modernized antiquated [information technology] systems used by state agencies” for processing unemployment claims, according to a statement from Rep. Tom Malinowski’s office.
Amid record-high unemployment and jobless claims, the state’s unemployment system consistently crashed, with many claimants waiting weeks or months for a single jobless benefits check.
The state’s unemployment system was widely dependent on a decades-old computer program known as COBOL, leaving it ill-prepared to handle the wave of applications. Republicans and business groups had suggested using half a billion dollars to upgrade the computer systems for the unemployment fund, out of the American Rescue Plan’s allotment to the state.
Democrats last year proposed putting in $50 million to upgrade the unemployment system – this budget proposes roughly $17 million.
“If we were to just throw a whole lot more money at the state level and the feds did not improve their technology, that would be good money after bad,” Murphy responded in June.
Another provision in the budget for the Housing and Urban Development federal department allows for the HUD secretary to let Hurricane Sandy victims keep any relief funds they received, rather than have to pay that money back after it had been spent on repairs.
Upward of 500 New Jersey homeowners were affected by the payback requirement, known as a “claw-back,” according to the office of Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman.
“Superstorm Sandy devastated thousands of New Jersey families and America came together to help them,” she said in a statement. “The financial relief it provides will go a long way toward those still seeking to be made whole.”