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U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Menendez, Sherrill announce more GOP support for SMART Act

Three Senate Republicans backing $500 billion in aid to state, local governments

By Nikita Biryukov, May 18 2020 12:40 pm

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-North Bergen) and Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) announced a bevy of new Republican sponsors for a bill that would provide $500 billion in direct aid to state and local governments impacted by the pandemic.

“There isn’t a place in America right now that isn’t or won’t be impacted,” said Menendez, the bill’s prime Democratic sponsor in the Senate. “Our state and local governments can’t do this alone. A national emergency requires a national response.”

Menendez and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) will introduce the State and Municipal Assistance for Recovery and Transition (SMART) Act on Monday after winning support from two other Republican lawmakers, Sens. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Cory Booker (D-Newark) have also signed on as co-sponsors.

The additional Republican support is a good signal for the bill, which has long been sought by Gov. Phil Murphy and leaders in states that have seen their finances spiral downward amid the pandemic.

“Our response to this crisis must put people over party, and that’s just what our coalition does,” Menendez said. “This isn’t a blue state or a red state issue. It’s an American issue, and we expect more will sign on in the coming days and weeks as we continue to build momentum because the SMART fund is just plain common sense.”

In addition to providing $500 billion in new aid moneys, the SMART Act would also overturn U.S. Treasury guidance that blocked states from using money provided under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to plug budget holes.

Democrats in the state, Murphy foremost among them, have railed against the guidance. The governor has at times said New Jersey may be forced to return the federal money unless the restrictions on its use were lifted.

The SMART Act would also eliminate the 500,000 population threshold needed to qualify for aid under the CARES Act.

Twelve counties were barred from receiving aid under the CARES Act because they had fewer than 500,000 residents.

“Just like their more populous neighbors, these counties are bearing an incredible burden as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and are working hard to keep their populations safe,” Sherrill said.

The Smart Act is also getting New House Sponsors.

In addition to Sherrill and Rep. Peter Kind (R-N.Y.), who are the bill’s prime House sponsors, Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff), Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), tom O’Halleran (D-Az.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) will co-sponsor the measure.

Movement on the SMART Act comes days after Democrats in the House passed a $3 trillion stimulus bill.

Though that bill won’t move through the Senate unchanged, it includes more money for states than the $500 billion called for by the National Governors Association.

Sherrill and Menendez aren’t sure states can afford to wait for those negotiations to be resolved.

“We’d love the higher number in the House, but so many people just want to make sure we get the money to our state and local governments as quickly as possible,” Sherril said.

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