Above: Gottheimer at the Empress Diner in Fair Lawn today.
FAIR LAWN, NJ — Today, June 14, 2021, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) announced support for a new $500 back-to-work bonus, utilizing a portion of the federal COVID-19 relief dollars heading to the State of New Jersey from the American Rescue Plan. Gottheimer proposed a one-time incentive for residents who are currently unemployed, if they start a job by August 1st and maintain employment through at least September 1st. In a letter to the NJ Department of Labor Commissioner today, Gottheimer also requested that the State continue enforcing the requirement that workers receiving unemployment benefits are actively searching for work.
Gottheimer made today’s announcement at the Empress Diner in Fair Lawn — a third-generation family-owned small business, first opened in 1965 — joined by diner co-owners John Melissas and his father Nick Melissas, as well as Fair Lawn Mayor Kurt Peluso and Councilman Kris Krause. A year ago, the diner had twenty employees and was open twenty-four hours a day. Right now, with only twelve staff, it’s struggling to find help, and had cut its hours from 9am to 9pm.
“It’s absolutely essential to connect unemployed Jersey workers with businesses in need and encourage workers to return,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) today. “To help both our unemployed residents and local businesses, I’m asking the State to consider implementing a back-to-work incentive program to award $500 bonuses to those currently receiving unemployment benefits, if they return to work by August 1st and are still on the job on September 1st. The good news is that we can create this back-to-work bonus program through the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, which we passed in Congress as part of the American Rescue Plan. As we transition from pandemic life to normal life, like so many businesses, they aren’t able to find the staff, just yet, that they need to be fully operational.”
The U.S. Treasury has said that back-to-work incentives are eligible expenses for State COVID-19 relief funds. However, instituting a new program would take time. States including Connecticut and Colorado are currently implementing similar incentive programs.
“There are financial and logistical challenges stemming from the pandemic. From childcare, to transportation, to ongoing health issues, school, and taking care of family members – I think we are all trying to figure everything out as quickly as possible. I believe this $500 back-to-work bonus will help in that transition,” said Gottheimer.
Watch the press conference here.
The text of the letter can be found here and below.
Dear Commissioner Asaro-Angelo,
New Jersey has made incredible strides crushing the COVID-19 pandemic in recent months. Now, more than fifty percent of the State’s population is fully vaccinated, while infection rates continue to fall. As a result, restrictions on social distancing and mandatory masking have been safely lifted and most daily activities, including schools, have fully resumed. I am pleased to see New Jersey families and businesses returning to normal life.
While continuing to address the health crisis, we also need to address the factors contributing to the economic crisis, including equipping businesses to be successful in a post-COVID economy. After losing hundreds of thousands of jobs during the darkest months of the pandemic, with a peak unemployment rate of 16.6 percent, New Jersey has now recovered 388,400 jobs and the U.S. Department of Labor’s latest unemployment report shows that the unemployment rate for the State has decreased to 7.5 percent.
The rapid turnaround in New Jersey’s economic conditions was helped by the five bipartisan COVID-19 relief packages signed into law, including the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (P.L. 116-260) and the American Rescue Plan Act (P.L. 117-2). These bills afforded significant fiscal relief to the American people, small businesses, and restaurants, helping prevent economic devastation for many. They also provided the resources that enabled the Biden Administration’s swift deployment of COVID-19 vaccines to the American people, with the Governor’s stewardship and the leadership of those at the local levels.
These resources were even more effective than originally predicted, as President Biden had initially aimed to administer 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office, and instead, public health officials reached 200 million vaccine doses administered with a week to spare on that deadline. Now, according to the CDC, more than 309,322,545 vaccine doses have been administered, and the New Jersey Department of Health has reported 9,176,545 have been administered in the state. The federal government also provided more than 153,261 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to assist small businesses in the state, as well as support for food security and for the unemployed.
Despite our great progress, far too many people are still out of work, and more must be done to get our economy back to where it was pre-pandemic. It is essential to connect unemployed workers with businesses in need and encourage workers to return to the workplace, not only to re-energize New Jersey businesses, but also to help families with good-paying jobs.
At the same time, returning to work does not mean that the financial and logistical challenges stemming from the pandemic have ended. To help in this transition, the State should consider implementing a back-to-work incentive program, which would award $500 bonuses to workers who are currently receiving unemployment benefits to return to work by August 1, 2021 and maintain employment through at least September 1, 2021. There would obviously be savings to the State as people leave the unemployment rolls. Per the American Rescue Plan, these back-to-work incentives may be funded through the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, of which the State will receive $6.2 billion in federal funding. The Treasury Department has said back-to-work incentives are eligible expenses, although I recognize that instituting such a program would obviously take time. This one-time incentive would offer support to New Jersey residents as they re-enter the workforce, setting them up for success in our post-COVID world. The NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development should also continue to enforce the requirement that workers who are receiving unemployment benefits are actively searching for work, and enhance the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s career services system, so that those able to fill available jobs have adequate resources to assist in their search.
Thank you again for your hard work and leadership during this difficult time. I look forward to continuing to work with you as we address the recovery from this crisis.
MEMBER OF CONGRESS
Gottheimer’s full remarks from today’s press conference as prepared for delivery are below.
I’m here today at the Empress Diner — joined by local business owners John Melissas and Nick Melissas — one of my favorite diners — to push for a new back-to-work incentive program, provide Jersey residents with extra support as they re-enter the workforce, and help our local small businesses get the help they need to operate, and return to normal.
I think it’s fair to say that we learned a lot — and were forced to adapt quickly — when life shut down more than a year ago, and businesses, schools, families, and far too many workers across our state were forced to quarantine. Our hospitals and doctors’ offices filled up with COVID patients. Many of our work meetings moved onto Zoom, and grocery stores and restaurants shifted to take out, while businesses moved to online orders.
We committed to the quarantine and to social distancing guidelines to help save lives and prevent our hospitals from being overburdened. We lost too many friends, family members, and neighbors – and still are.
But, now, thankfully, after five bipartisan COVID-19 relief packages, including the CARES Act, the American Rescue Plan, the PPP program to help small businesses, and an extremely swift and effective vaccine distribution program, at every level of government, New Jersey has turned the corner. Case numbers, deaths, and hospitalizations are way down – and I want to thank our frontline health care workers and first responders, the Biden Administration and the Governor’s stewardship, and colleagues of mine at the county and local levels, on both sides of the aisle.
More than fifty percent of our population has been vaccinated, with more getting a shot every day. We have made incredible strides crushing the COVID-19 pandemic over recent months.
Social distancing and mask policies have been safely lifted, which means we can get back to normal.
Now, thanks to all we’ve done, and the indomitable spirit and ingenuity of our businesses and workforce, from gyms to stores, many of our local small businesses can reopen for customers and local restaurants can return to full capacity.
As for our workforce, there were hundreds of thousands of jobs lost during the darkest months of the pandemic. With a peak unemployment rate of more than 16 percent, New Jersey’s rate is now less than half that — and has recovered more than 388,000 jobs.
However, while the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter, and things thankfully have turned around and opened up faster than any of us, including the scientists, could have predicted, some aspects of our communities and many of our families are still struggling to fully return to normal.
Here at the Empress Diner, which has been open in Fair Lawn for fifty-six years — a three generation, family-owned business — they were able to apply for and receive critical PPP relief dollars from the bipartisan legislation we passed in Congress. Like the more than 60,000 other PPP loan recipients in New Jersey, those dollars helped them keep their doors open and pay staff when they weren’t able to open at regular capacity. Like many small businesses, they were able to survive. But don’t forget, there were some very dark days and months. Small businesses like this one – and people’s lives were upended overnight – jobs, child care, school, you name it.
But, now, this restaurant, and so many families, are struggling to get back to normal. We’re getting there, but it’s a process. The Empress Diner is a great North Jersey diner – a Jersey institution – that, in normal times, would stay open twenty-four hours a day. But, now, as we transition from pandemic life to normal life, like so many businesses, they aren’t able to find the staff, just yet, that they need to be fully operational. They will one day soon, hope is on the horizon, but, for now, it’s a different story,
The Empress used to have twenty employees, but they’re currently down to twelve.
So, unfortunately, the diner is now only open from 9am to 9pm — seriously impacting their bottom line and keeping patrons from reading the Star-Ledger or the Record over eggs in the morning.
Here in North Jersey, I’ve personally spoken to numerous small businesses, restaurants, and diners that are all having hiring issues.
It’s absolutely essential to connect unemployed Jersey workers with businesses in need and encourage workers to return to the workplace, not only to re-energize New Jersey businesses, but also to connect workers with good-paying jobs and help them fully support their families.
To help both our unemployed residents and local businesses, I’m asking the State to consider implementing a back-to-work incentive program to award $500 bonuses, to those currently receiving unemployment benefits, if they return to work by August 1st — and are still on the job on September 1st. Other states like Connecticut and Colorado have taken similar action.
The good news is that we can create this back-to-work bonus program through the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, which we passed in Congress as part of the American Rescue Plan. The State will receive $6.2 billion from that federal fund, and the U.S. Treasury Department has said back-to-work incentives are eligible expenses. I recognize that instituting such a program will take time, but I believe that this one-time incentive would really help New Jersey residents as they re-enter the workforce, and will help our businesses like this one get back to normal operations. I can’t wait for the Empress to re-open 24 hours a day!
This bonus will help get more Jersey residents back to work, will help local businesses stay afloat and get them the staff they desperately need to fully function, will set both our families and businesses up for success in our post-COVID economy, and will help Jersey and our economy fully rebound. I think we all recognize that this is a time of great transition – for everyone. There are financial and logistical challenges stemming from the pandemic. From childcare, to transportation, to ongoing health issues, school, and taking care of family members – I think we are all trying to figure everything out as quickly as possible. I believe this $500 back-to-work bonus will help in that transition.
I know folks are eager to get back to work and to life. And we can do this. We’re from Jersey. Nothing knocks us down.
This pandemic has not been easy on anyone, but — working together at the federal level, with the State, and here locally with our small businesses, restaurants, and families — I know that we can help New Jersey and our economy fully recover, always with a keen eye on our health, so that our best days will always be ahead of us.
Thank you and God bless.