Mercer County and the communities within will receive almost $187 million in aid from the federal government over the next two years.
The money will come from funds allocated for state and municipal aid under the American Rescue Plan—the $1.9 trillion stimulus package approved by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden last month.
Under the act, New Jersey will receive the eighth largest pot of federal money compared to other states, including $360 billion in state and local aid. The state itself will receive $6.4 billion plus another $189 million to expand broadband internet across the state.
An additional $1.8 billion will be split among the 21 county governments and $1.741 billion is to be divided among all 565 cities and municipalities in New Jersey.
The ARP calls for $71.26 million to go to the Mercer County itself and $115.5 million to be dispersed to individual municipalities. The money is earmarked for expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The breakdown of funds to Mercer municipalities is as follows:
• East Windsor $2.68 million
• Ewing $6.07 million
• Hamilton $16.89 million
• Hightstown $521,023
• Hopewell Borough $187,230
• Hopewell Township $1.74 million
• Lawrence $3.18 million
• Pennington $253,046
• Princeton $6.05 million
• Robbinsville $1.42 million
• Trenton $73.78 million
• West Windsor $2.74 million
Aid allocated for Burlington County towns includes $1.17 million for Bordentown Township, $372,496 for Bordentown City and $54,224 for Fieldsboro.
In Middlesex, Plainsboro will receive $2.24 million.
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“Our state and local governments have been on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, who voted for the plan.
“They have been bleeding resources for over a year while costs have soared and revenues have plummeted. As a result, they have borne the brunt of the economic pain and desperately need help,” Sen. Menendez said.
He said the money in the ARP is intended not only for governments, but also for vaccinations, first responders, teachers, infrastructure improvements and small businesses.
“In the midst of the greatest public health and economic crises of our lifetimes, it is unacceptable New Jersey schools, hospitals, small businesses and workers faced the additional threat of budgetary shortfalls,” said Sen. Corey Booker, who also voted for the ARP.
Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes and local officials contacted by The Gazette said it is still unclear what the funds can be used to pay for, and they are awaiting guidance from the federal government.
Because the regulations regarding use of the funds are unknown, the money has not been included in most county and local municipal budgets for 2021.
“I’m very thankful to president Biden and Congress for passing the ARP,” said Hamilton Mayor Jeff Martin. He added that he expects that the funds the town will be receiving will help make up for lost hotel tax revenue — the town gets a percentage of every room that’s rented, and hotel occupancies are down since the pandemic began.
Martin said the township has also had to pay overtime for Health Department employees to work overtime the past year.
He said it was a “huge relief” to know that they likely won’t have to raise taxes or cut jobs.
Kevin Nerwinski, Lawrence Township municipal manager, also said he’s awaiting some clarity on the funding.
“We are working on getting the information regarding the funds the township is to receive, and when and how it can be used,” he said. “At present, there is limited guidance.”
He said he’s also looking for some clarity as to how the disbursement of funds was determined.
“I am trying to find out why Princeton is receiving $6 million and Lawrence is receiving $3.2 million,” he said. “We are identical in terms of population (we have slightly more), square miles and unemployment rates, but Princeton’s municipal budget is 32% higher than ours.”
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Local government funds will be distributed in two equal payments—the first by May 10 of this year, and the second by March 11, 2022.
According to the National Law Review website, the funds are to be used to “respond to the COVID-19 emergency and address its economic effects, including through aid to households, small businesses, nonprofits and impacted industries such as tourism and hospitality.”
All funds must be spent on costs incurred on or before Dec. 31, 2024. The state and local governments cannot use the funds to make pension payments or to offset revenue losses resulting from any tax cut, tax delay or tax rebate enacted after March 3, 2021.