U.S. Sen. Cory Booker defended against claims that the $2 trillion bailout passed by Congress and signed into law last month left out some of the state’s Republican counties Monday.
The alarms over Salem, Hunterdon, Warren and Sussex Counties being ineligible for federal community development block grants and emergency solutions grants was spurred by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) and State Sen. Steve Oroho (R-Franklin), who on Saturday sent Gov. Phil Murphy a letter voicing concerns that the counties may not be eligible for aid.
Republican Senate candidate Rik Mehta on Sunday charged that Booker and Menendez intentionally left the Republican counties off the list.
Booker said that wasn’t the case and pointed to other forms of federal aid that the counties could obtain.
“For Community Development Block Grant money, there is a formula based upon past recipients where the governor has a lot of flexibility for those dollars as well,” Booker said. “But for every county, all 21, they should understand they’re eligible for Byrne and JAG grants to help local police departments and fire departments. That’s something we want to see getting to every single county.”
Both types of grants require counties have 500,000 or more residents or a city with 50,000 or more residents to be eligible.
The four red counties did not immediately receive aid as the state’s 17 other counties did because they failed to meet those criteria, but they can apply for the grants through the state government.
Further, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development can waive some requirement associated with the grants.
The idea that some counties were being left out of the aid was “just not true,” Booker said.
“I’ve heard some people trying to exploit it for political advantage in those areas, who attacked a lot of the congressional delegation, which was really disappointing to see that kind of partisanship in a time where our state needs to stay together,” Booker said.
Other Republicans — State Sen. Mike Doherty (R-Washington), Assemblyman John DiMaio (R-Hackettstown), Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Franklin) and House candidate Frank Pallotta — have also launched attacks over the counties’ exclusion.
“Nearly 400 of our constituents have tested positive for COVID-19. No New Jersey community has been immune from the wrath of this epidemic, so why didn’t Warren and Hunterdon counties receive funding to help combat this crisis?” the three state lawmakers said. “We are calling for federal discretionary funds to be used to help slow the spread in Northwest New Jersey.”
Doherty, Peterson and DiMaio sent a letter requesting Murphy allocate discretionary funds to Warren and Hunterdon Counties on Monday.
Pallotta simply launched an attack against Gottheimer, whose seat he is seeking.
“It is unacceptable that any of our hard-hit communities would be left out under the stimulus bill. New Jersey sends more than its fair share to the federal government only to be given the short shrift during one of the most challenging times in our history,” he said. “Josh Gottheimer was silent when Nancy Pelosi loaded the bill with far-left Green New Deal proposals and then came home empty-handed.”
New Jersey continues to lead every state in the nation excepting New York in confirmed COVID-19 cases and in deaths related to the novel coronavirus.
As of Monday afternoon, there were 41,090 confirmed cases of the virus in the state and 1,003 related deaths.
“This virus doesn’t know race. It doesn’t know county lines. It doesn’t know state lines,” Booker said. “It’s coming after all of us, and our best strength is when we stand together to fight it.”
This story was updated with comment from Peterson, DiMaio, Doherty and Pallotta at 6:55 p.m.