New Jersey plans to use nearly $23 million in federal dollars toward bolstering a state workforce hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past seven months, Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Wednesday.
The funds are meant to help businesses stricken by the pandemic rebuild their labor pool. And for residents out of a job, that money would go toward retraining and re-employing, the governor’s office said.
“Too many people are not just unemployed, but they’re giving up, and this is an effort to track them down and bring them back,” Murphy said during a press announcement at Camden County College in Blackwood.
The governor abruptly left the event less than an hour into the announcement, after learning that he was in close physical contact with a senior staffer who tested positive for COVID-19. He is now in self-quarantine for the rest of the week. So far, two staff members from his office – senior strategic communications advisor Daniel Bryan and Deputy Chief of Staff for Intergovernmental Affairs Mike Delamater – tested positive for the virus.
Since the state’s first recorded positive COVID-19 case on March 4, the pandemic has triggered statewide shutdowns of hundreds of thousands of businesses. Unemployment soared to record-high levels, and more than 1.6 million residents have filed for jobless aid since then.
$4 million from federal COVID-19 relief money for New Jersey will go toward “relief employment.” Those jobs are temporary in nature and “related to the state’s recovery from the pandemic.”
The first such job sector to benefit is the state’s controversial long-term care centers, where almost half of all COVID-19 deaths reported in New Jersey have been accounted for, and which have fallen under intense scrutiny over potential mismanagement. To that end, on Oct. 16, Murphy sacked leadership at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which oversees veterans’ homes in Paramus and Menlo Park where a combined 190 residents died from COVID-19. Lawmakers are also pushing through a litany of bills meant to overhaul and ramp up state oversight of New Jersey’s long-term care industry, which includes veterans’ homes and senior centers.
A second pot of $3 million in “customized and on-the-job training grants” is meant to cover up to half the costs for training new employees, so long as the business commits to hiring that person at the completion of their training.
“Essential and struggling industries such as retail, grocery, hospitality, tourism, health care, transportation, and logistics will be targeted,” the governor’s office said.
A third tranche of money comes in at $7 million of grants for “employment and training services,” which will go toward career services at county-level Workforce Investment Boards. That includes work such as outreach, assessment screening, virtual job referrals and resume critiques.
“We all know of businesses that are struggling or have closed, and workers who have been laid off or have had their hours drastically reduced as a result of the pandemic,” New Jersey Labor Commissioner Robert Assaro-Angelo, whose department will oversee the funds, said in a Wednesday statement.
Another $8.4 million in federal funding is on the table to “assist dislocated workers,” Murphy said.l