Joseph F. Berenato
$1.3M in COVID aid for the town
HAMMONTON—On March 10, Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) announced in a release that the state of New Jersey will be receiving $10.189 billion as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021—also called the COVID-19 Stimulus Package— a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11.
According to the release, the state will receive “approximately $6.434 billion plus another $189 million to expand broadband internet across the state. An additional $1.823 billion will be split among the 21 county governments and $1.741 billion divided among all 565 cities and municipalities.”
Of those funds, Atlantic County will receive $106,673,358.22; $51.14 million will go to county government, and $55,533,358.22 will be divided among the county’s municipalities.
The release said Hammonton will receive $1,368,767.64.
According to the release, the direct, flexible funding “can be used by state and local governments to pay COVID-related expenses; cover lost revenues due to the pandemic to maintain critical services and avoid layoffs of essential workers; provide additional assistance to residents and small businesses; and invest in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.”
Mayor Stephen DiDonato said that final details were pending further guidance, but that the money will be used “in the budget for shortfalls created through coronavirus.”
“It’ll be used for many different facets, but we want to confirm that we’re going to receive that money. We’re hearing about it, but until we get 100 percent, crystal-clear notification ... Senators Booker and Menendez sent us the information, but we weren’t able to see the nuts and bolts, or how it’s calculated, or exactly all the criteria, so we’re waiting for that yet,” DiDonato said.
DiDonato said that the town of Hammonton experienced several financial burdens during the height of the pandemic, including overtime costs and a loss of revenue, and that this money will be used for “any future increases in inflation due to the coronavirus so we don’t have to impact the residents, and keep a stable tax base.”
Councilman William Olivo said that it is a “fabulous thing that we’re receiving these funds.”
“There are no guidelines that we’re sure of as how it can be distributed or spent, but I think we want to keep our spending down in the town, and use the money to the best possible advantage that we could, whether it’s going back and seeing if there are overtime things that had to be taken care of and things of that nature,” Olivo said.
Despite the immediate financial benefit, Olivo expressed concerns.
“It’s a windfall for the town, but how’s this going to get paid back? ... I’m very fearful for that. What’s the future going to bring for us, down the line, when somebody eventually has to pay the moneys back?” Olivo said.
“I have mixed feelings. These programs are good if they get our economy going, but, at the same time, I’m concerned about the national debt,” DiDonato said.
Councilman Joseph Giralo expressed similar hesitation.
“If the money is spent the right way, and things are done the right way with it, it’s OK, but I’m very concerned about the huge amounts of money, of course, that the federal government is borrowing further against a deficit in this country ... I do understand that some people need help, and I do understand that—most of the time—the money goes to the right places, but, when you’re borrowing money? Was it worth it? Was the juice worth the squeeze? I’m not saying there aren’t good things that the money can be used for, but you’ve got to look at the bottom line here,” Giralo said.
Giralo conceded that the infusion of capital is welcome, but cautioned that there is “nothing for nothing.”
“When are we going to wake up and realize this has to get paid back? ... It’s great, and I know that a lot of people are feeling it; I know that a lot of businesses have felt it. That I certainly understand; that I get, but there will be a huge payback here for what we’re doing,” Giralo said.
DiDonato also noted that Hammonton has not been informed as to the rationale behind the particular amount of money.
“I have no idea how they arrived at that figure. I don’t know if it’s population-driven; I really didn’t see the equation. It’s such in its infancy ... I don’t know how it’s driven. I know the county got money, the town got money. We’re going to have to see exactly what the parameters are, and go from there,” DiDonato said.
According to the release, the funding formula “targets federal resources to areas with the greatest need and is modeled after Sen. Menendez’s bipartisan State and Municipal Assistance for Recovery and Transition (SMART) Act,” which was introduced on May 18, 2020 and announced in a release on April 19, 2020 from Menendez’s office.
The SMART Act, which this formula mirrors, would have delivered funding to state and local governments, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia in three equal tranches.”
According to that release, those three trenches are as follows:
“1. One-third to eligible entities based on population size to ensure they each receive additional federal resources to meet their growing needs (Same formula used to disburse the $150 billion state stabilization fund created in the CARES Act, but essentially doubles those available funds)
“2. One-third to eligible entities based upon the number of COVID-19 cases relative to the U.S. population to target the urgent public health challenge
“3. One-third to eligible entities based upon state revenue losses relative to pre-COVID-19 projections to target the urgent economic challenge.”
Olivo said that, despite the possible ramifications in the future, the town of Hammonton will benefit from this money—once instructions are received regarding how to use it.
“We have to find that guidance, as far as what they’re specifically saying regarding the use of that money ... We don’t want the taxpayers to be paying any more money if we can avoid a tax increase,” Olivo said.
“Our hopes are to keep a stable tax base moving forward, with no increases, and at the same time take care of some of the costs that we have outstanding from COVID and different things,” DiDonato said.