Coronavirus update: Murphy meets with Trump and gets 550,000 test kits

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy took his pressure campaign for direct cash assistance to the White House on Thursday. And came back with a promise of 550,000 test kits.

President Donald Trump and Gov. Phil Murphy

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting about the coronavirus response with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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New Jersey reported 2,633 new coronavirus cases Thursday, bringing the state’s total to 118,652.

Another 460 people died of complications from COVID-19. The state has now lost 7,228 residents total to the pandemic.

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At White House, Murphy politely asks for cash

During a chummy appearance with President Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday, Gov. Phil Murphy said New Jersey would need $20 billion to $30 billion in federal cash assistance to cover losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

That is a gargantuan sum for a state that has an annual budget of just shy of $40 billion. For comparison, New Jersey’s former treasurer estimated the state took a $6 billion revenue hit in the worst year of the Great Recession.

“This is to allow us to keep firefighters, teachers, police, EMS on the payroll serving the communities in their hour of need,” Murphy said, sitting alongside Trump in the Oval Office. “We don’t see it as a bailout. We see this as a partnership, doing the right thing in what is the worst health care crisis in the history of our nation.”

Murphy, a Democrat, has repeatedly called on federal lawmakers to provide aid to states. Until Thursday, he had not estimated the total amount New Jersey would need, and he later clarified that the number he cited was a projection of lost state revenue or new expenditures through June 2021.

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Republican leaders in Washington, however, have signaled they may resist a state “bailout.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he didn’t want states to use the money to fix broken pension systems, and Trump on Tuesday suggested any aid could depend on states’ immigration policies.

The topic of immigration did not come up during a roughly 20-minute discussion that Trump and Murphy held in front of a select group of reporters Thursday. Trump simply said cash assistance for states was a “tough question.”

Otherwise, Murphy praised the Trump administration for “an extraordinary spirit of partnership” in helping New Jersey get ventilators, build pop-up field hospitals and at least double testing by the end of May.

“You can’t have a better representative than this man, that I can tell you,” Trump said in response. “Plus, he’s an old Goldman Sachs guy.”

Murphy also mentioned he had been administered a rapid COVID-19 test and was negative for the virus.

Murphy brings back big haul from Washington

Back in Trenton on Thursday afternoon, Murphy announced that the Trump administration will send New Jersey 550,000 new COVID-19 test kits and 750,000 swabs needed to carry out those tests.

The governor called it a “tremendous boost” to testing capacity in New Jersey, which until recently has been averaging between 7,000 and 9,000 tests a day. About 222,000 tests total have been performed since the start of the pandemic in the state.

In addition, Murphy said, the Trump administration will send personal protection equipment to more than 350 long-term care facilities in the state, whose residents and staff have been hit the hardest by the coronavirus outbreak.

Those shipments will include about 220,000 masks, 19,000 goggles, 200,000 gowns and 1 million gloves, Murphy said.

“This proves it is possible to put people over politics,” he said at his daily briefing. “It’s no secret that the president and I disagree on some things, but that’s not going to stop me from doing everything I can to make sure New Jersey has all the resources we need to move forward.”

20% of N.J. workforce files for unemployment

More than 930,000 New Jersey workers have now filed for unemployment benefits, according to the latest state data. That figure represents roughly 10% of the state’s entire population, and about 20% of the workforce.

Nearly 72,000 residents made a claim last week. That’s the lowest weekly total since the pandemic caused widespread business closures in mid-March.

But it still dwarfs the low point of past economic shocks like Superstorm Sandy (46,000) and the Great Recession (25,000). Nationally, more than 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits.

The New Jersey total includes roughly 200,000 people who are gig workers, freelancers or others who do not normally qualify for unemployment benefits.

They are now eligible, however, through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which was authorized by the federal CARES Act. The state Labor Department said it began informing people of their eligibility on Wednesday and would start distributing payments on Friday.

Overall, the department said it has paid out $1.4 billion in benefits in the past six weeks.

Layoffs at South Jersey bridge commission

The Burlington County Bridge Commission voted to lay off 23 workers during a telephone conference call Wednesday, according to a report in the Burlington County Times.

The commission — which operates the Burlington-Bristol and Tacony-Palmyra bridges in South Jersey — reported an $852,000 shortfall in March toll collections and said it expects to lose another $1.5 million in April because of decreased traffic stemming from COVID-19 social distancing restrictions.

All told, the agency of roughly 150 full- and part-time workers projects a loss of $8 million in revenue due to the pandemic, the newspaper reported.

“I feel terrible it’s come to this. But this is historic times,” Executive Director Joe Andl said. “We’ve never seen anything like this before with historic losses. We have to mitigate and moderate as best we can.”

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