A New Jersey U.S. senator is leading the charge to get more flexible and robust federal funding for the states in the next COVID-19 stimulus package being considered by Congress.

“New Jersey can’t do it alone. A national emergency requires a national response,”  U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, D-NJ, said during Gov. Phil Murphy's daily novel coronavirus update in Trenton.

He’s calling for quick action to be taken on legislation he is co-sponsoring with Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La, of Louisiana, the State and Municipal Aid for Recovery and Transition, or SMART, fund.

He said it would provide half a trillion dollars in assistance, “with priority given to the areas of our country with the greatest need based on COVID-19 infection rates and lost revenues due to the economic fallout.” That would build on the $150 billion distributed to states already.

Menendez pointed out New Jersey is second only to New York in the number of COVID-19 cases.

“Our economy has been hit harder and longer than most. The SMART fund ensures New Jersey gets its fair share of federal funding — period, full stop,” he said, borrowing a favorite phrase of the governor's.

He said SMART funds are vitally important for states like New Jersey as the economic recovery begins because “it will help stave off massive layoffs, and deep painful cuts to the essential services that make our state the great place to live, work, visit and shop.”

Murphy said he supports the SMART fund entirely.

“We need significant federal investments in our states to allow for our recovery. Without there will likely be no recovery,” he said, “Time is of the essence. Congress needs to act and act now.”

Republican State Chairman Doug Steinhardt has accused Murphy of withholding funds meant for those most directly hurt by the pandemic, and "sitting on a nearly $2 billion mountain of money that could save New Jersey small businesses." But Murphy argues restrictions on the use of a first round of federal stimulus keep New Jersey from using the funds to prevent mass layoffs of its teachers, first-responders and others, and that more flexibility is needed.

Menendez Monday said his bill would loosen those restrictions to give states more leeway with their spending.

"If we ever want to get back to normal to see businesses thrive we also need to make sure our police officers, firefighters, paramedics have the resources they need," he said.

He stressed “this isn’t a red state or a blue state issue. This is an American issue.”

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Menendez said he anticipates announcing the support of several new Republican senators later this week.

“The only way to defeat COVID-19 and send our economy on a glide-path to recovery is by sending federal reinforcements to the frontlines,” he said.

“The federal government cannot sit on its hands and watch our states go bankrupt and our people suffer. The time to act is now,” said Menendez, “the federal government needs to do more, a lot more if we are going successfully defeat COVID-19 and move our economy forward.”

Menendez noted President Donald Trump is eager to re-start the economy, and New Jersey. With the northeast region generating 20% of the gross domestic product of the nation, I think we have common ground with the president to seek the type of solutions we want," he said.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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