Murphy to Trump: Sign the stimulus bill — then search for more money

File photo Gov. Phil Murphy, left, with President Donald Trump.

On Tuesday night, President Donald Trump announced via Twitter that he may veto the current version of the COVID stimulus bill because it does not give enough in the form of individual payments. Gov. Phil Murphy responded to this assertation by sending a special message to the president at his COVID-19 press briefing Wednesday.

“I urge the president to sign the stimulus bill that is on his desk,” he said. “If the president wants to give people more money, I am all for that. States need more money; local authorities need more money. Please, Mr. President. Sign this bill and then get right back at it with Congress to find more money.”

With unemployment benefits set to expire at the end of this week for thousands of New Jerseyans, the current version of the bill would help extend these benefits to those in need. Now that the bill is stalled, many out-of-work New Jerseyans will find themselves with no government assistance right around the holidays.

While Murphy is appreciative of the current version of the bill, he still sees its flaws.

“It is literally a fraction of what we need,” he said. “Folks need more money, unemployment benefits need to be extended longer, small businesses and restaurants and the like need even more support than what’s in that bill.”

In terms of how unemployment looks going into the end of the year in New Jersey, it’s not pretty. Wednesday, the Department of Labor & Workforce Development released its weekly report a day early due to the Christmas holiday and is reporting an increase of about 1,300 initial claims in comparison to last week, for a weekly total of 17,611. Since March 21, 1.87 million New Jerseyans have made initial claims.

In total, $20.2 billion worth of benefits were given to residents throughout the state since the beginning of pandemic. That money comes from a lot of different sources, such as FEMA’s Lost Wages Assistance program, which the governor provided an update on.

“At the end of last week, the Labor Department processed another round of LWA payments to roughly 18,000 newly eligible claimants,” Murphy said. “Those payments, if they have not already landed, should be arriving in the coming days. Please, God, just in time for Christmas.”

Other notes from Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing:

Health metrics

Murphy confirmed Wednesday that there are a whopping 103 deaths that have been newly confirmed to be from COVID-19 related complications. The death number was also over 100, marking the first time this has happened in two consecutive days since the end of May. In total, 16,521 New Jersyans have lost their lives to COVID-19 since March, with an additional 1,945 probable deaths.

The governor also reported 4,919 newly confirmed positive cases, bringing the statewide total since March to 445,138. In hospitals throughout the state yesterday, 426 COVID patients were discharged while 298 others were admitted. Additionally, there were 62 deaths reported that are awaiting lab-confirmation.

Other hospital numbers:

  • In hospital: 3,841 (3,612 confirmed, 229 awaiting confirmation);
  • In ICU: 765 (most since May 26);
  • On ventilators: 485 (most since May 29);
  • Rate of transmission: 97;
  • Positivity rate: 97% (from Dec. 19).

Final school update of 2020

With the first half of the hectic, abnormal school year in the books, Murphy also announced end-of-the-year updates from the Department of Education in terms of in-school transmission and the digital divide.

“There have been seven new confirmed outbreaks and another 31 new cases related to those outbreaks,” Murphy said. “There has been a cumulative amount of 105 outbreaks impacting 459 individuals.”

In terms of the digital divide, the governor provided a more detailed update than he usually does, giving perspective of how the divide has changed in December alone.

On Dec. 2, 5,170 students needed both a device and connectivity, 21,720 students needed a device only, and 4,670 needed connectivity only. Today, those numbers sit at 640, 7,130, and 1,511, respectively. That is a 49.8% decrease in students who need connectivity, 25.3% in those that need a device and 64.2% in those who need both.

In totally today, 9,281 are still having issues of some sort. Murphy understands that these numbers are decreasing, but still feels for those students who remain without the proper technology.

“We won’t have our next numbers until the new year,” he said. “Our hope is that, once remaining shipping delays are cleared, this number will continue to drop. I’m gratified that (the total) is all the way down to 9,281. That’s still 9,281 too many.”

Final word

Murphy on holiday celebrations this year:

“I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, obviously, but I urge everyone to keep to a small, indoor celebration only among your immediate family. If you are going to gather with others — I know it sounds crazy, but please try to do it outdoors. We do not want anyone’s Christmas to lead to anyone being sickened or hospitalized for New Year’s Eve. We want everyone to enjoy their holiday, but to enjoy it responsibly.”