MORRIS COUNTY — The Morris County Freeholders are pleased to announce that more than $7 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) funding has been directed by Governor Phil Murphy to assist Morris County with continued COVID-19 testing and reimburse it for costs already incurred in its diligent response to the pandemic.
The funding includes $3,819,380 in reimbursement dollars for expenses Morris County incurred as of June 30 and which were not covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) dollars, insurance, or other funding. An additional $357,500 is earmarked to continue testing operations until December and $2,915,033 to support the testing of vulnerable and priority populations moving forward.
“This funding it critical to Morris County’s ability to continue combating this devastating pandemic with the same responsible, direct, and forceful effort we mobilized when the virus first hit us,” said Freeholder Director Deborah Smith.
“Morris County went from being one of the most seriously impacted areas in the state to having one of the lowest virus-spread rates in the state because of our rigorous, organized response, which included proactive budgeting and spending adjustments so we did not dig the county into a financial hole,” Freeholder Smith added.
Morris County’s extensive response included, among other actions, opening a testing center, monitoring the virus spread, direct aid to food pantries, partnering with health providers, and providing infrared thermometers to community and faith-based groups.
“In early March we were planning for a prolonged health emergency. We bolstered our health and human services, focused our county resources on fighting the pandemic, and worked closely with our local health officials and medical providers. Our efforts included retaining additional public health staff, boosting our stockpile of personal protection equipment, and launching a testing site without state aid. We have now pivoted to assist in recovery with the formation of a COVID-19 Recovery Task Force,” said Freeholder Deputy Director Stephen Shaw.
“The task force continues to address the needs of community organizations, businesses, and help with the mental health effects of the pandemic. This grant dovetails with some of those initiatives, and we look forward to offering more testing support to our towns, businesses and communities as we pull through this crisis together,” added Freeholder Shaw.
Morris County, along with 11 other counties, received no direct CARES Act funding from the federal government this past spring because direct aid was predicated on a requirement a county have a population of at least 500,000 residents. Morris County missed that threshold by a mere 8,000 residents, while nine other counties, two of which barely met the population requirement, shared in $1.05 billion in direct aid.
Morris County freeholders flagged the population requirement as arbitrary and urged the Governor in April to provide Morris County with a share of $2.4 billion the State of New Jersey received from the CARES Act.
The freeholders’ request was supported in a joint letter by Republican State Sen. Anthony Bucco, Democratic State Sen. Dick Codey, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill. They argued it is unfair to deny aid to some counties and give millions to others, particularly when the counties have virtually the same populations.
They also noted the pandemic’s impact on Morris County residents last spring was much higher than in other counties that each received nearly $90 million or more indirect aid.
“We want to thank the state and Governor Murphy for this grant. We also need to acknowledge that we were very fortunate to have had the support of Senator Bucco, Congresswoman Sherrill, and Senator Codey advocating the Governor’s Office to secure this funding,” said Morris County Administrator John Bonanni.
“Without question, their joint efforts helped the Governor to recognize how inequitable a rigid population requirement was in determining the distribution of financial aid in New Jersey, which has been hardest hit, second only to New York, by the pandemic,” added Administrator John Bonanni.
The new funding provides opportunities for the county to conduct at-home testing programs and work with municipal health officials to establish scheduled mobile testing sites. A more detailed plan is already in development and will be available in the near future.
The freeholders and administrator joined Governor Murphy earlier today in announcing the new grant at an event at Vasa Park in Mount Olive.
For more information on the initiatives taken by Morris County to address COVID-19 since February and other significant announcements about the virus in New Jersey click here.