May-26-2020

N.J. Senate to investigate Murphy Administration response to Coronavirus Crisis

Below is an article written by Sophie Nieto-Munoz & Brent Johnson and published by NJ Advance Media on May 26, 2020.

The state Senate will soon launch a bipartisan committee to investigate New Jersey’s response to a range of coronavirus-related issues, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. announced Friday.

The “Review and Recovery Committee” will examine how Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration responded to a swath of problems that affected different communities across New Jersey, including the dozens of COVID-19 deaths at the state’s long-term care facilities and prisons, the breakdown of the aging unemployment system, the disproportionate impact on minorities, and the impending fiscal hurdles the state and local government will face as a result of the unprecedented crisis, the senators said in a joint statement.

“We’ve got to review all the actions we’ve taken to make sure the ones we’ve done well we do again and the ones we haven’t done well we don’t repeat,” Sweeney, D-Gloucester, told NJ Advance Media in a phone interview. “There’s a lot that troubles me.”

The committee will also work to identify solutions to the social, governmental and financial problems as New Jersey enters a public health-fueled economic crisis with a 15% unemployment rate.

“Senate Republicans called for the formation of this committee to improve transparency and accountability and provide important oversight of the administration’s response to COVID-19,” said Kean, R-Union.

“It’s clear that mistakes were made and important lessons can be learned to improve the state’s response as we move forward. It’s our sincere hope that this bipartisan review will save lives and help New Jersey to recover with strength and resiliency.”

The committee will hold hearings to identify issues that were exposed or exacerbated by the pandemic, focusing on unemployment, long-term care facilities, and corrections facilities, including “what we did wrong and what we did do right,” Sweeney said.

“We’ll learn going forward if there is another issue, we learned and we’re capable of handling things better than next time,” he added.

NJ Advance Media investigations recently uncovered troubling missteps in the deadly spread of coronavirus in New Jersey’s nursing homes, how the coronavirus spread rampant through prisons resulting in dozens of deaths, and that officials ignored dire warnings to fix the state’s archaic unemployment system for many years before the economic crisis.

The state’s legislative leaders have already vowed to investigate the state’s response to an outbreak that has taken the lives of an estimated 5,456 long-term care residents, based on suspected cases and those who tested for COVID-19 before death.

At least 43 inmates and three people who worked in state prisons have died of the coronavirus. And thousands of residents have been waiting more than six weeks for unemployment checks.

Murphy, a Democrat, has also said there will be “post-mortems” into the coronavirus response during his daily press briefings, though none have been conducted yet.

Sweeney said he will name members of the commission next week but stressed it will include members of both major political parties. He also said he didn’t add subpoena power “because we expect everyone to cooperate.”

“We’ll see how that goes,” Sweeney said. “We can always do it if we need it, but we prefer not to.”

New Jersey, a densely populated state of 9 million residents, has reported at least 10,985 deaths attributed to COVID-19, with at least 152,719 cases, since the outbreak began March 4. Only New York has more deaths and cases among American states.

Officials reported 146 new deaths and 1,394 new positive tests in New Jersey on Friday. The state recently began peeling back Murphy’s stay-at-home orders after the governor outlined a multi-stage reopening plan, which now includes allowing groups of 25 to gather outdoors.

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