The week of April 25, both the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and the Assembly Budget Committee held several departmental hearings.
Department of Health
On Monday, April 25, the Assembly Budget Committee heard from the Department of Health. Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli provided the Department’s testimony focusing on the pandemic, healthcare, and a clear path moving forward. Commissioner Persichilli outlined the Department’s $2.4 billion FY2023 budget, which includes $1.1 billion in state funds, $727 million in federal funds, and $571 million in anticipated revenues from Department of Health’s programs and services.
Much of the hearing focused on the pandemic. The Commissioner emphasized how New Jersey’s dense population, multi-generational housing, and proximity to major travel hubs left it more susceptible to COVID cases and deaths than other states. Focusing on vulnerable populations and equitable vaccine access, the department utilized metrics to protect the state’s residents resulting in one of the most successful vaccination programs in the nation. Nearly 18 million doses of vaccine have been administered, with 92% of residents five and up with at least one dose and nearly 80% of eligible residents fully vaccinated. There were also several lessons the Department of Health learned from the pandemic, including the necessity of setting goals early on to include inventory stockpiling and monitoring; the importance of data, science, and vigilance; and the success of local health departments, Federally Qualified Health Centers, and independent pharmacies delivering vaccines in harder-to-reach communities.
Persichilli noted that the Overdose Fatality Review Teams budget will increase by $500,000 to continue to expand the review teams to all 21 counties and additional municipalities. Currently, there are 19 Overdose Fatality Review Teams in 17 counties and 2 municipalities. These review teams analyze the circumstances surrounding fatal overdoses to help towns effectively direct policies, practices, and partnerships to prevent future overdoses and allocate prevention resources and services.
Funding for the Childhood Lead Program remains at $14.3 million for FY2023. The Department of Health is working with the Department of Community Affairs and Department of Environmental Protection to rebuild water infrastructure and reduce lead levels in rental properties.
Commissioner Persichilli concluded with the Department of Health’s goals to prepare for future COVID surges, strengthen local public health infrastructure, and prioritize the protection of high-risk groups. Its continued mission will be to limit or control illness and death through accessible vaccination programs into the future.
Department of Environmental Protection
On Tuesday, April 26, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Shawn LaTourette provided testimony to the Senate Budget Committee. Commissioner LaTourette highlighted that Governor Murphy’s FY2023 budget has proposed increases for drinking water protection, infrastructure project support, flood control, urban parks, and a green jobs training programs. Commissioner LaTourette also anticipated that programs that rely upon the corporate business tax deduction–brownfields cleanup, watershed restoration, and open space–would see a modest growth. DEP’s budget increased to $468.8 million, an increase of $42.6 over DEP’s FY22 enacted budget.
Commissioner LaTourette noted that New Jersey has an estimated need for more than $30 billion in water infrastructure improvements. It is anticipated that over the next five years the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will bring $1 billion in federal funding to New Jersey for water infrastructure. Since these funds require varying level of state matching funds, he noted that the legislature’s steadfast partnership will be critical to making meaningful progress.
In regards to flood risk reduction, DEP is expected to work with local governments on vulnerability assessments and planning efforts that are critical for municipalities to position themselves as recipients of federal investment in resilience measures, which in turn provides confidence to the financial markets and investors in private assets and public bonds. At the same time, the Governor’s proposed budget will amplify state investment in resilience infrastructure through sustained investments in both shore protection ($45M) and inland flood control ($16.5M). LaTourette noted that DEP will continue examining opportunities to leverage these investments in partnership with federal entities, such as the Army Corp of Engineers, while also exploring beneficial engagements with nongovernmental entities investing in resilience solutions.
The Commissioner closed by noting that New Jersey will continue charting a new course for the future, with a stronger, more just environment at its center.
Department of Community Affairs
On Thursday. April 28, Lt. Governor Shelia Oliver, Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, provided testimony before the Senate Budget Committee. Lieutenant Governor Oliver began her testimony with the Department’s eviction prevention efforts and addressed responses to the crisis including the DCA’s Division of Housing Resources two-phase COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program (CVERAP). More than $644 million in federal funds went to more than 81,500 households statewide, including households in the Eviction Prevention Program.
Lt. Gov. Oliver updated progress of the Department’s Expanded Access to Counsel and Homelessness Diversion Anti-Eviction Pilot Program, which expanded access to free and quality legal advice and representation to 322 households in Trenton, Atlantic City, and East Orange.
Lt. Governor Oliver highlighted the Department’s approach to notify residents about four utility assistance programs: the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the Universal Service Fund (USF), the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Utility Arrearage Program, and the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP). To date, the Department has paid out $88.7 million in LIHEAP benefits for more than 229,300 applicants and $53 million for more than 28,500 applicants in the ARP Utility Arrearage program, which includes both EPP and ARP funding.
The Lieutenant Governor expressed her excitement that last month Governor Murphy had announced a proposed $335 million Affordable Housing Production Fund to help the State build approximately 3,300 already approved affordable housing units over the next four years.
The Lt. Governor noted that the Department, a partner agency on the State’s Wealth Disparity Task Force Housing Working Group, has been working closely with the Governor’s Office and the Division on Civil Rights in the Office of the Attorney General to formulate comprehensive recommendations to address racial and ethnic wealth disparity in New Jersey’s real estate and housing market.
Another major initiative that the Lt. Governor highlighted is the Department’s collaboration with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to advance clean energy infrastructure in New Jersey. DCA’s Office of Local Planning Services collaborated with DEP to create a statewide Electric Vehicle Municipal Ordinance to encourage electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure in municipalities. The ordinance streamlines the local approval process.
In regards to the Division of Local Government Services, the Lt. Governor noted that the Division continues its work to build effective municipal governments and provide valuable technical assistance. Noting that the Shared Service Czars continue to advance shared services in counties and municipalities with over 2,500 shared services agreements. The Division has documented more than $110 million in savings and enhanced delivery of services.
During her closing remarks, Lieutenant Governor Oliver touched upon the establishment of the new Office of Information Privacy, which was created to fulfill Daniel’s Law’s promise of special protections for judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and their immediate family members wishing to have their home addresses protected from public disclosure.
Next week both the Assembly Budget Committee and Senate Budget Committee will host several different departmental hearings. For the full legislative calendar please visit New Jersey’s legislative website.
Contact: Andrew LaFevre, Legislative Analyst, email@example.com , 609-695-3481, ext. 116