Good afternoon. My name is Adam Guziejewski, Senior Vice President, Katz Government Affairs. I am pleased to speak to you today on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey (CCSNJ), a Katz Government Affairs client. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the allocation of remaining American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.
The Chamber of Commerce Southern NJ is the region’s largest and most influential business organization representing businesses in the seven most southern counties of New Jersey, as well as greater Philadelphia and northern Delaware. The CCSNJ has more than 1,100 member companies, approximately 85 percent of which are small businesses that employ less than 50 people, as well as approximately 150 nonprofit members.
We appreciate the investments that the state has already made towards economic recovery and in assisting small businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there is still more work to be done to ensure New Jersey businesses continue to recover.
One of our longstanding requests is for the ARPA funds be used to fully or partially replenish the state’s unemployment insurance fund to avoid future tax increases on employers. We have also requested for additional funds to revamp the NJ Economic Development Authority’s (NJEDA) business assistance programs to allow for more businesses to apply for much needed capital.
We continue to believe that these are important uses of ARPA funds that will benefit New Jersey’s economy and enhance opportunities for working New Jerseyans.
In a survey we conducted just last week – in preparation for this hearing - we asked our members to rank which additional uses of ARPA funds were most critical to addressing their needs. Respondents indicated that the most important uses of these funds are the following: workforce development and job training, childcare needs and assistance, and infrastructure investments in broadband, utilities and transportation.
Our member employers have and continue to tell us that one of their biggest challenges is addressing staff shortages and hiring a qualified workforce. We believe dedicating funds to support workforce development and job training will help our members address this need. Accordingly, we respectfully request more resources be allocated to the NJEDA to continue and expand business assistance programs (such as the Main Street Recovery Fund as an example). The CCSNJ strongly believes that directing further resources towards these types of programs would go a long way in assisting the small business community’s continued recovery. We have also been supportive of initiatives such as the New Jobs for New Jersey Act, currently pending in the Legislature, which would provide incentives to small private sector employers who increase their workforce by hiring those that are currently unemployed.
Another way to address the labor shortage is to increase the access to, and affordability of, childcare. Last year, the CCSNJ released our Preparing for the Next Normal Report, which contained a series of policy recommendations to successfully reopen the economy as we moved away from the height of the pandemic. One recommendation was to create an assistance program for the employer community to create on-site childcare. While some funds have already been appropriated, we believe more assistance would be beneficial. We also encourage the release of funds that have already been allocated to reach the intended recipients as expeditiously as possible.
Additionally, a robust recovery from the Covid 19 pandemic will require both enhanced infrastructure and improved access to public transportation, and we wholeheartedly support the use of ARPA funds as a means to those ends.
Closing the digital divide continues to be a priority for the region, as certain communities struggled during the pandemic due to lack of broadband access. And we believe that as part of building and maintaining a robust infrastructure, continued reinvestment in our utility providers is necessary as well. Shortly after the COVID 19 pandemic began, the State ordered a moratorium on shutting off services for nonpayment. The FY 22 state budget included partial funding to account for the effect on utility companies and ratepayers. We now suggest closing the gap by using additional ARPA funds to make the utilities and the ratepayers whole.
As it relates to transportation, we encourage ARPA funds be dedicated to increase funding for the rehabilitation of our roads and bridges and to improve access to public transportation. These investments are vital to employees commuting to and from work and to tourists visiting some of South Jersey’s prized destinations (like the Atlantic City and Capy May regions), spurring economic growth. Additionally, as the wind industry continues to grow, furthering job opportunities in the Salem County area, the lack of public transportation continues to be a barrier for employment. Use of ARPA funds to expand access to these direct and indirect jobs are critical for the project’s success, and the region’s ability to assure South Jersey residents take advantage of new employment opportunities.
Thank you again for allowing us to provide comment on the use of the remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds. We are happy to make ourselves available for any further discussions regarding our suggestions.