Murphy announces mortgage grace period, as COVID toll rises

29484 views
Gov. Phil Murphy during a recent briefing on efforts to curb the coronavirus COVID-19. COURTESY OF THE GOVERNOR'S OFFICE

TRENTON — Gov. Phil Murphy on Saturday announced “a 90-day grace period for mortgage payments for borrowers impacted by the COVID outbreak.”

The announcement came during a briefing in which the governor also reported that the state’s coronavirus case count had reached 11,124 and the number of resulting deaths had reached 140.

He also announced a new “staggered schedule” for the drive-through testing sites in Monmouth and Bergen counties that will have them opening on alternating days, beginning Sunday.

MORTGAGE RELIEF

The governor said the mortgage relief move was put together with the cooperation of “major national mortgage lenders, including Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, US Bank, Wells Fargo … Bank of America, as well many of out state-chartered lending institutions and mortgage servicers.”

Homeowners should contact their lenders directly to take advantage of the program, Gov. Murphy said.

He also said the grace period “cannot and will not be used to downgrade anyone’s credit rating and lenders will also wave any late fees or other costs which would otherwise arise” because of it.

An earlier executive order by Gov. Murphy imposed a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions in the state.

He said Saturday that the two moves will mean “that many New Jersey families can breathe easier, keep their heads above water and have a place they can continue to call home.”

While thanking the lenders who have agreed to provide mortgage relief, the governor called upon credit card help relieve pressure on consumers as well.

“I urge and expect financial institutions and credit card companies to to do the right thing in all areas of their businesses,” Gov. Murphy said, suggesting that credit card companies lower interest rates and waive late fees, as well “exercise compassion when people call with financial hardship.”

TEST SITE SCHEDULES

The governor also announced a new “staggered” schedule for the state’s COVID-19 drive-through testing sites, beginning Sunday, with only the Bergen County Community College location open on Sunday and only the Monmouth County site at the PNC Arts Center in Holmdel open on Monday.

On each day, the testing will begin at 8 a.m. and end after 500 samples have been taken, the governor said.

Both sites were open on Saturday, but were limited to testing first responders and health care workers who were symptomatic, the governor said.

Beginning on April 4 and every Saturday thereafter, the PNC site will test only health care workers and first responders, he said.

The new schedule for the testing sites will be posted on COVID19.nj.gov. on Sunday, March 29.

“We’ll keep letting you know each day,” Gov. Murphy said of the new schedule.

“Again, you must be exhibiting symptoms of respiratory illness to get a test. And they check you, by the way, when you pull up. If you’re not exhibiting the systems, you are politely but firmly asked to leave the line.”

COUNTY CASE NUMBERS 

In Monmouth County, 126 new positive cases were reported on Friday, with three new deaths reported. Monmouth has the fourth highest number of cases among the counties in New Jersey. 

In Ocean County, 81 new positive cases were reported, with three new deaths reported on Friday.

The backlog in testing means that it can take as long as seven days to get results, “so we’re getting results from almost a week ago,” Judith Persichilli, the state health commissioner, said during the governor’s Friday press briefing. She said health officials expect there to be an increased demand for critical-care hospital beds in mid-April.

“Social distancing is the only tool we have” for reducing the number of cases and the need for hospitalization, she said.

SCHOOLS

While some school districts have begun discussing when they anticipate re-opening, the governor said Friday, “Let you be assured, that decision rests with yours truly.”

He said state officials won’t revisit the question of when schools might re-open until at least April 17.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” he said, and any decision will be based on scientific data. 

If the schools were to open too early, he said, “we will be throwing gasoline on the fire” of the pandemic.

SMALL BUSINESS AID

“Our economic recovery begins with our small businesses,” the governor said Thursday, and a new initiative will direct financial assistance to small businesses, which employ the majority of New Jerseyans.

Businesses and workers facing economic hardship due to the pandemic may look to a suite of new programs approved Thursday by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority [NJEDA] that will provide more than $75 million in state and private aid. 

The initiatives include grants for small businesses; zero-interest loans for mid-size companies; support for private-sector lenders and Community Development Finance Institutions; funding for entrepreneurs; and resources providing technical support and marketplace information. 

More information is available at https://cv.business.nj.gov

Unemployment, jobs portal

“We got a gut punch as a nation and as a state in the number of people filing for unemployment,” Gov. Murphy said.

Last week, 3.3 million people filed for unemployment across the nation and 155,000 filed in New Jersey, he said

But companies that are considered essential are seeking additional workers, he said, and the number of job postings on the state’s new jobs portal, https://jobs.covid19.nj.gov/, has grown exponentially. Some 35,000 job openings have been posted by more than 300 essential employers, he said.

“I urge every resident willing to be part of our front-line workforce to visit the portal. Our residents want to keep working,” he said.

Family leave

On Thursday, Gov. Murphy also signed a measure to expand the state’s Temporary Disability Insurance [TDI] and Family Leave Insurance [FLI] programs to provide more workers with access to paid leave benefits during public health emergencies.

“No one should have to decide between taking care of themselves or a sick family member and going to work during this pandemic,” the governor said. 

The new measure expands the law’s definition of a “serious health condition” to allow individuals access to TDI and FLI benefits during a public health emergency if they must take time off of work because they are diagnosed with or suspected of exposure to a communicable disease or to take care of a family member diagnosed with or suspected of exposure to a communicable disease. 

The bill also expands New Jersey’s earned sick leave law to permit the use of earned sick time for isolation or quarantine recommended or ordered by a provider or public health official as a result of suspected exposure to a communicable disease, or to care for a family member under recommended or ordered isolation or quarantine.

The governor announced Wednesday that he has signed an executive order that all child-care facilities in New Jersey must certify by Friday, March 28, that they are solely serving children of workers designated as essential during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Those that don’t must close by Wednesday, April 1,” he said. Child-care facilities that do remain open must abide by the guidelines established, he said.

“We are taking this step for the simple reason that we need all our front-line workers on the job,” he said.    

Gov. Murphy also issued an order Wednesday that expands the list of workers classified as essential during the pandemic to include mobile phone retail and repair shops; bicycle shops, for repair only; livestock feed stores; nurseries and garden centers; and farm equipment stores.

The governor also commented on a controversy swirling around the nation regarding suggestions the country should get back to business now to boost the economy, and that the elderly can take care of themselves during the pandemic.

“We completely and utterly reject the small pockets around this country who suggest that certain people are dispensable. We will fight to save every life … That is America. That is New Jersey.

“There is no price too high to pay to save a life in this  state and to keep the toll as low as we can,” the governor said.

Gov. Phil Murphy, at his press briefing on Tuesday, emphasized that social distancing is crucial in slowing the spread of the virus, and he said law enforcement is cracking down on “knuckleheads” who don’t comply.

By way of example, he said, a customer at the Wegmans supermarket in Manalapan was charged after an incident there.

The customer got into a dispute with an employee and then coughed on her, saying he had coronavirus, the governor said. The customer refused to cooperate with a police officer and subsequently was charged with making terroristic threats, harassment and obstruction of law, he said. 

“Let me give a shout-out to Manalapan police and a shout-out to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office,” the governor said. “We are up and down the state and we will not tolerate any noncompliant behavior, never mind an egregious behavior.”

The state Attorney General’s Office later identified the suspect as George Falcone, 50, of Freehold. The case will be prosecuted by the state Division of Criminal Justice.

The governor said there also have been reports of employers violating the “100% work-from-home order, with limited exceptions,”  and telling all their employees they must work at the office.

“My order is not a polite suggestion. It is an order,” he said, and he gave a telephone number, 609-963-6817, to report violations.

Reporters asked about statements made by President Donald Trump in recent days that he might consider lifting some restrictions on businesses if the economic pain is too great, and they asked whether New Jersey subsequently could keep its nonessential businesses closed. 

Gov. Murphy noted that the president “says he doesn’t want the cure to be worse than the disease.” 

“I understand … given the enormity of the impact on the economy, folks who want to find a quick and short way back to normalcy as possible. But we’re not there yet, and we’re going to stay the course based on the facts of science.”

The governor said the state took its most draconian step, shuttering all nonessential retail businesses and ordering residents to stay at home, only three days ago, and there is “a long runway,” before the crisis ends.

Gov. Murphy said that after a phone call with President Trump on Monday, he has been told that the federal government plans to send a shipment of personal protective equipment [PPE], including 200,000 N95 face masks and 84,000 respirators, to New Jersey from the national stockpile.

“I am extremely grateful,” he said. He noted that a number of private companies in the state, including PSE&G, Apple and others, also are donating PPE to hospital systems to protect health care workers. A central email account, ppedonation@njsp.org, has been set up to coordinate donations and distribution of PPE. 

Gov. Hughes said he also is grateful for the FEMA team that has been sent to New Jersey to set up four field hospitals to help handle an influx of patients.

State Police Col. Patrick Callahan said field hospitals are expected to be set up at the Meadowland Exposition Center in Secaucus, the New Jersey Convention and Exposition and Center in Edison, the Atlantic City Convention Center and a fourth site yet to be determined.

Gov. Murphy on Saturday ordered most of New Jersey’s 9 million residents into a lockdown, with nonessential retail businesses required to close their doors.

While many employers in New Jersey have been forced to lay off workers because of the  restrictions, some essential businesses that continue to operate are in desperate need of more workers.

“We are definitely aware of those out of work because of our efforts at social distancing,” the governor said during a press briefing on Monday.

And so, he said, the state has compiled a list of businesses that are seeking to hire new workers, and residents may visit the state’s one-stop coronavirus website, COVID19.nj.gov, for links to apply for those jobs, which number in the thousands.

Some of the employers listed include Amazon, UPS, ShopRite, Walmart, Wawa and many health-care providers. Employers who need to hire workers may set up links on the website.

The state also is seeking direct cash assistance from the federal government to respond to the emergency, the governor said.

“New Jersey is at the forefront for folks who need care, for small businesses and others,” he said.

The governor on Monday said he also has issued an executive order, effective at 5 p.m Friday, that postpones any invasive, elective dental or medical surgery that doctors deem can be safely delayed, in order to preserve the state’s PPE supply.

He noted that a two-week emergency-supply kit is now available to New Jersey residents with diabetes, and residents can visit diabetesfoundationinc.org for more information or to apply for the kits.

Gov. Murphy said he is thankful to the federal government for the FEMA “boots on the ground” personnel who set up two drive-through coronavirus-testing stations. One opened last week at Bergen Community College in Paramus and the other Monday morning at the PNC Bank Arts Center parking lot in Holmdel.

The governor also noted that the state has been working with county prosecutors to identify low-level offenders who may be released early to prevent an outbreak of the virus in county jails.

At each press briefing, the governor has repeatedly urged residents to follow social distancing orders.

“Stay at home unless you are really part of an essential service,” Gov. Murphy said Sunday, and he predicted the restrictions would be in place for weeks to months. “We need you to just stay at home,” he said.

He also urged people with summer homes at the Shore to stay at their primary home during the crisis. He said the local infrastructures in towns along the coast, especially health-care systems, are not prepared for an influx of part-time residents.

Residents still may make necessary trips, such as going to the grocery store or for medical services, and they may go outdoors for runs or walks, as long as they stay a minimum of six feet away from one another and “not side-by-side,” he said.

No social gatherings, including parties, funerals, weddings, are permitted.

Essential services that may remain open include health care providers, grocery stores, food banks, pharmacies, liquor stores, gasoline stations, auto mechanics, convenience stores, banks, hardware stores, office supply, pet stores, laundromats and mail-and-delivery shops. In addition, restaurants and bars may continue to offer take-out-only meals.

Businesses and nonprofits must “wherever practicable”  arrange for employees to work remotely from home. 

Among the exceptions are health-care workers; the media; police and first responders; store cashiers; construction workers; janitors; warehouse workers; and essential federal government workers. 

 “Our job is to flatten the curve of the virus. We know that these steps will come with enormous economic pain, but at the end of the day we will get through this. The economic pain will be a lot less than if we let the virus run amok,” Gov. Murphy said.

The call system for information or assistance from the state has been expanded to include 2-1-1. Or, people may text NJCOVID or their zip code to 898-211 for live text assistance.

Follow local coronavirus news at: https://starnewsgroup.com/coronavirus/

For more on this story, read next week's edition of The Coast Star—on newsstands Thursday or online in our e-Edition.

Subscribe today! If you're not already an annual subscriber to The Coast Star, get your subscription today! For just $34 per year, you will receive local mail delivery weekly, with pages and pages of local news and online access to our e-edition on Starnewsgroup.com.