Murphy laments record-breaking unemployment, but says more assistance is on way

Unemployment has run rampant throughout the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, and New Jersey is not immune. With more and more workers getting laid off every day, Gov. Phil Murphy announced additional help in the form of more FEMA Lost Wages Assistance payments coming soon.

“(Payments will go) to more than 10,000 newly eligible workers next week,” Murphy said. “Those workers can expect to receive emails with instructions. Happily, those payments should arrive just in time for Christmas.”

In addition, Murphy also pointed a report he has received from the state Department of Labor & Workforce Development that the legislation he recently signed expanding eligibility has helped over 2,000 unemployed New Jerseyans get benefits for the first time.

“As more workers exhaust their regular unemployment benefits, this number will continue to grow,” the governor said. “These are workers who were denied under the old law but are now eligible. This is just one small example of how we’re working hard, hand and glove, with the Department of Labor to get every penny into the wallets of New Jerseyans whose jobs have been impacted by COVID-19.”

In terms of how the current unemployment numbers look, it’s not pretty. Last week, Murphy reports there was a week-over-week increase of 3,500 initial claims for a weekly total of just over 17,000. In total, 1.8 million residents have filed initial claims.

The Department of Labor has handed out a total of $19.75 billion in payments during the Pandemic, with funds coming from both federal and state emergency relief. Murphy is concerned with the numbers he sees.

“These are not just record-setting, but record-shattering numbers,” he said. “I promise you this: none of us will rest until every New Jersey claimant has received every single penny that they deserve.”

Other notes from Friday’s COVID-19 briefing:

Health metrics

The number of new cases confirmed to be COVID-19 came in at 3,821. There have been 390,256 cases in the state to date. On Thursday, 425 coronavirus patients were discharged from hospitals, while 467 were admitted.

There were 55 new confirmed deaths from COVID-19, making the total since March 390,256 deaths. There are 1,868 deaths still classified as “probable.” About 675 of these probable deaths are among senior care home staff members and residents.

Other hospital numbers:

  • In hospital: 3,571 (3,332 confirmed, 239 awaiting confirmation);
  • In ICU: 687;
  • On ventilators: 421;
  • Rate of transmission: 14;
  • Positivity rate: 95% (from Dec. 7).

Liquor license suspensions

In terms of specific punishments for specific restaurants when they allegedly violate COVID restrictions, Murphy has largely remained quiet during the pandemic. However, this changed at his Friday briefing. He announced that the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control has taken formal action against 10 bars and restaurants throughout the state.

“The charges brought seek suspensions for liquor licenses anywhere between 10 all the way up to 115 days depending on the charges by name,” Murphy said. “I am going to go through the establishments by name, and the reason I’m doing this is to highlight the overwhelming number of businesses that are doing the right thing. By inference, I want to give them a shoutout.”

The establishments got their two minutes of infamy, as he listed them individually. Wicked Wolf in Hoboken and 30 Strikes Lanes in Stratford each got 10 days. Eddy’s Bar and Liquors in Bayonne got 15, while Jalapenos Bar and Grill in Gloucester City and George Street Ale House in New Brunswick got 20 and 25 days, respectively.

In terms of larger suspensions, Reilly’s Bar and Grill in Kearny and 814 South Pub & Kitchen in Somerdale each got 30 days. The Graystone Inn in Little Falls got 40 days, while Black Betty’s Saloon in Sayreville got 70 days and B&B Saloon in Atlantic City received a whopping 115 days.

While Murphy said he does not enjoy handing these suspensions out, he hopes they serve as a warning.

“It gives me no pleasure to file these charges,” he said. “It’s the last thing, frankly, that we want to do. … Let these charges send a perfectly clear signal to any bar or restaurant owner who thinks the rules don’t apply to them. This will happen to you.”

Pfizer vaccine approval

On Thursday, a panel of experts formally recommended that the Food and Drug Administration grant emergency authorization to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Murphy is ecstatic about this news.

“This may be the understatement of the year,” he said. “We are excited by the action taken yesterday by the FDA’s vaccine advisory panel. We anxiously await the final vote by the FDA’s commissioners.”

Once approved, the governor expects that the vaccine will be available to the state within a few days. Again, he reiterated that the vaccine will go to frontline workers first once it is received.

“We will be ready to immediately begin putting our vaccine plan in place,” Murphy said. “Certainly, no one can dampen the real sense that we are now in the opening scenes of the end of this pandemic. To paraphrase (Winston) Churchill, I believe we are at the beginning of the end rather than the end of the beginning.”

Final word

Murphy on Pennsylvania shutting down indoor dining:

“We still are staying with what we got, which is indoor dining subject to 25% capacity and closing by 10 p.m. It’s still our policy and still what we recommend. So, I can’t speak for New York or Pennsylvania, per se, in terms of decisions, but it is important to point out that the overwhelming majority of these (restaurant owners) are good actors.”