MORRIS COUNTY — The Morris County Board of Freeholders, with the backing of a bipartisan group of state and federal legislators, is asking the state and federal governments not to penalize the county to the tune of $80 million to $90 million in direct federal COVID-19 aid because the county is slightly short of a 500,000 county population cutoff figure.
Some $3.4 billion has been allocated to New Jersey from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund, established by the CARES Act, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27.
The Fund provided a $2.4 billion direct payment to State of New Jersey, as well as more than $1 billion of direct payments to New Jersey counties with populations greater than 500,000. Morris County, however, has about 492,000 people, which narrowly misses that threshold.
Sister counties, such as Passaic and Camden counties, with populations of 501,826 and 506,343 respectively are each getting $88 million in direct federal aid, while Morris County received no direct aid and will have to seek a share of the state’s allotment.
A resolution unanimously approved by the Freeholder Board strongly urges the state to provide direct stabilization funding to Morris County from the Coronavirus Relief Fund in an amount consistent with the allocation made to counties that have populations slightly over 500,000.
Morris County has the backing of Republican State Sen. Anthony Bucco, Democratic State Sen. Dick Codey, and Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherill. In a joint letter to Gov. Phil Murphy, the trio contend that a fiscal distinction should not be made between counties with virtually the same populations.
Sherill, as part of a team of 11 members of the state Congressional delegation, also is urging Gov. Murphy to provide direct funding from the CARES Act to all New Jersey counties with less than 500,000 residents.
“This funding is critical to Morris County’s ability to continue its efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and work to keep our constituents safe,’’ said Freeholder Director Deborah Smith. “We thank Sen. Bucco, Gov. Codey, and Congresswoman Sherill for their strong support in dealing with this pandemic, and for supporting our county.’’
Bucco, Codey, and Sherill noted that Morris County has the ninth highest number of positive COVID-19 cases of all 21 counties in New Jersey, and the sixth-highest number of deaths from COVID-19. It has 162 deaths as of April 13, compared to 136 deaths in Passaic County and 35 in Camden County.
Also, the Morris County mortality rate, comparing deaths to those testing positive for the virus, is currently 33% higher than the state average, the legislators wrote.
“This funding is critical to Morris County’s ability to continue their efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and to work to keep our constituents safe,’’ Bucco, Cody, and Sherill wrote.
Among many actions, the freeholders noted that Morris County:
• Established outside COVID-19 testing sites at Morristown Medical Center, Chilton Hospital, Dover General Hospital, St. Clare’s Hospital, and Zufall Clinic, helping ensure that infected persons remain outside the perimeter of those critical facilities.
• Established a COVID-19 drive-thru testing site at the County College of Morris with no support of personal protection equipment, testing kits, or other materials from the state.
• Supported the needs of both the Atlantic HealthCare Hospital System and the Prime HealthCare Hospital System.
• Accepted and medically treated out-of-county adult inmates, juvenile offenders, and children in crisis in Morris County facilities.
• Stretched professional resources beyond the realm of reasonability by serving as the Medical Examiner for three counties.
The freeholders, in their resolution, also urged the federal government to adopt an aid funding threshold reflecting the true impact of COVID-19. That funding formula should be based on metrics indicative of the negative effects the virus has on jurisdiction and the level of actions taken to combat the threats.