RELEASE: Gottheimer Announces New Federal Investment from COVID-19 Relief Package for Warren & Sussex Counties to Help Boost Broadband Connectivity

HOPE TOWNSHIP, WARREN COUNTY, NJ, March 15, 2021

Every North Jersey county & town will claw back federal dollars from new COVID-19 relief package

Federal investment can be used to address broadband connectivity issues in unserved communities — helping families, businesses, students, schools

Legislation includes resources for additional vaccines, small business and restaurant relief, & middle class tax cut

Gottheimer sends letter to Governor asking for additional broadband support from State

 

Above: Gottheimer announces new federal investment available to help communities in Warren & Sussex Counties improve broadband connectivity.

HOPE TOWNSHIP, WARREN COUNTY, NJ — Today, U.S. Congressman Gottheimer (NJ-5) announced how Northwestern New Jersey’s local communities can utilize the federal dollars from the new COVID-19 relief package — $20.42 million to the Warren County government, $27.25 million to the Sussex County government, and millions in total to each township and borough — to invest in improving broadband connectivity for families, students, schools, and businesses.

In addition to the direct federal investment to every North Jersey county and town government, Gottheimer also personally fought to include a $10 billion investment in the new COVID-19 relief package to be divvied up for broadband and infrastructure projects nationwide. The State of New Jersey is expected to claw back $190 million of that investment, as part of that investment, and Gottheimer is urging the Governor to invest some of those resources for broadband improvements in Warren and Sussex Counties.

“I think it’s fair to say that we learned a lot — and were forced to adapt quickly — when life shut down a year ago, and businesses, schools, and families across our state were forced to quarantine. One thing we all realized pretty quickly was that huge swaths of the country, including far too many communities right near here, were unconnected. Broadband wasn’t an option for them — so, no remote classes, no telehealth, no Zoom meetings. The digital divide and its real impact on our families and businesses couldn’t be starker,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “Together, with our local mayors and the key internet service providers in the region, we’ve been fighting this fight for years — to get all of our communities connected with actual broadband. The American Rescue Plan will help change that, and, working together, I’m confident that we can finally bring connectivity to every corner of the Fifth District. It won’t happen overnight, but it will because, as it’s been famously said, I still believe in a place called Hope.”

“Today’s announcement for internet infrastructure funding is a huge win for Warren County. This past year, the pandemic has highlighted the connectivity issues for our communities and the Congressman’s inclusion of these improvements will be welcomed news for so many,” said Warren County Commissioner James Kern.

“It’s an honor and a pleasure to have Congressman Gottheimer here today. He needs no welcome here — he’s been here many, many times — making sure Washington is getting out there and hearing what’s going on in all our towns and municipalities. The fact that we have here today the mayors from Hardwick, Frelinghuysen, Blairstown, Knowlton, and Hope shows you the respect we have for what the Congressman is doing in trying help us here, and that’s very important,” said Hope Township Mayor Tim McDonough today.

“For the last five years, there has been a core group of leaders who are here in this room today — and especially I’d like to thank Commissioner Kern, who’s also been at the forefront of this — who have chased the issue, following every possible lead that could help us get to better internet. For people who might not know what’s going on behind the scenes, here’s what we were doing: we sat with CenturyLink and Service Electric and we tried to cajole them into expanding, we met with state agencies and we tried to get them to expand their grants, we met with federal agencies to weigh in for the need for new national mapping, which actually showed our area as having good internet when it didn’t. And just last week, many of us from this group met with representatives from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the principal agency that advises the President on telecommunications issues, and we were able to speak to them specifically about Knowlton Township and our small towns. All these meetings were arranged by Congressman Gottheimer, and they were conducted privately, away from the lights and the press, and the sole goal was just to get better internet for our towns. And, today, we’re here because all that work behind the scenes is finally paying off,” said Knowlton Mayor Adele Starrs.

“The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 finally addresses the most significant remaining challenge to deploying ubiquitous broadband in rural communities – the capital required to build the infrastructure. Planet Networks has been working diligently for several years to increase broadband deployment in both Sussex & Warren counties. We believe the funding provided is sufficient to deploy 100% coverage to all communities which lack sufficient broadband today at speeds of 10,000 Mbit/s up and 10,000 Mbit/s down within 36 months. Instead of being a backwater broadband desert, Sussex and Warren Counties have the potential to be the most well-connected communities in the world. There is a lot of work to be done, but we look forward to working with all stakeholders to continue building out next generation infrastructure to carry us forward for decades to come. When our friends and neighbors thrive, our communities thrive, and our country thrives. This is a game changer and we are excited to accelerate the work we are already doing to get more connectivity to more people much faster than we could without this funding,” said Planet Networks CEO Robert Boyle.

Gottheimer was joined today in Hope Township by Warren County Commissioner James Kern, Warren County Commissioner Lori Ciesla, Planet Networks CEO Robert Boyle, Hope Township Mayor Tim McDonough, Knowlton Mayor Adele Starrs, Hardwick Mayor Kevin Duffy, Blairstown Mayor Robert Moorhead, Frelinghuysen Mayor Christopher Stracco, Washington Business Improvement District Executive Director Melanie Thiel, and Hackettstown Business Improvement District Executive Director Laurie Rapisardi.

According to data through 2017 from the U.S. Census Bureaus’ American Community Survey, only 77% of Hope Township residents have access to broadband. In nearby Knowlton Township, the data showed 82% of residents have broadband, and, next door, White Township only has 69% of residents with broadband.

Outline of Federal Investment Available for Broadband & Infrastructure from the New COVID-19 Relief Package:

  • Sussex County:
    • Sussex County Government: $27.25 million
    • Total to the Individual Sussex Municipalities in the Fifth District: $9.26 million
  • Warren County:
    • Warren County Government: $20.42 million 
    • Total to the Individual Warren Municipalities in the Fifth District: $6.51 million
  • Passaic County:
    • Passaic County Government: $97.33 million 
    • Total to the two Individual Passaic Municipalities in the Fifth District: $3.78 million
  • Bergen County:
    • Bergen County Government: $259.73 million 
    • Total to Individual Bergen Municipalities in the Fifth District: $53.28 million
  • Infrastructure Investment for Broadband, Water, Sewage, and Other Infrastructure Projects:
    • $10 billion nationwide for broadband and infrastructure improvements
      • The State of New Jersey is expected to receive $190 million of the $10 billion, to invest in broadband improvement and infrastructure projects throughout the state. 

In addition to broadband and water infrastructure improvements, county and town governments can utilize their direct federal COVID-19 relief investment to respond to the COVID-19 emergency and address its economic effects, including through aid to households, small businesses, nonprofits, and industries such as tourism and hospitality — as well as to help pay for law enforcement, firefighters, and EMTs.

See the county-by-county and town-by-town breakdown of new federal COVID-19 relief for North Jersey communities HERE.

Watch today’s announcement event HERE.

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below.

The COVID-19 emergency relief package we passed last week was a win for our communities, for our families, for our small businesses, and, most importantly, for our health. It will help us get to the other side of this pandemic. 

I’m here today — joined by local leaders from across Northern New Jersey — to announce how both Sussex and Warren Counties can utilize the federal dollars we’re clawing back through the American Rescue Plan to help fight COVID-19, on all fronts, and ensure that God-forbid we are ever hit with a crisis like this again, we have all the tools, including broadband, to run a modern-day economy. 

We all know this hasn’t been an easy time for our country, or for our state. A year ago, we were literally in the eye of the COVID-19 storm. Fast forward, the counties that make up the Fifth District have now had 160,719 total COVID-19 cases, and we’ve lost 4,907 souls, including too many of our moms and dads, brothers and sisters, neighbors, co-workers, and friends. Our small businesses, including so many of our restaurants, have been devastated. Nearly a third of them have shuttered their doors. Schools opened and closed — our children falling further behind.

This COVID-19 emergency relief package, like its four bipartisan predecessors, will bring critical help to Northern New Jersey — including every single county and every single town in the Fifth District — to help cover pandemic expenditures and lost revenue.  In the end, the more than $476 million dollars we’re clawing back here to the Fifth District will get vaccines into more arms, and bring critical dollars to our schools and to those who’ve lost their jobs or need help with child care. It will also inject essential investment into our communities, to help pay for cops, firefighters, and EMTs, and invest in local infrastructure, including water, sewer, and broadband. 

Nearly 40 cents on every dollar of relief to New Jersey will go locally — to our counties and towns.

It will also help lower health care premiums for those struggling during the pandemic.  We also fought for and secured critical resources to help our small businesses and restaurants, which will qualify for special restaurant and venue grants on top of the second round of available PPP forgivable loans.

And, beginning this week, every family who makes less than $160,000 dollars, will get a check sent to them, representing an enormous tax cut for middle class families.

It’s a big day for Jersey — not necessarily a big day for the Moocher States.

While no piece of legislation is perfect — I worked with my Senate colleagues to make it better. 75% of Americans — meaning both Democrats and Republicans nationwide — support the package — which is a great start, because this is the light at the end of the tunnel. 

Overall, here in Warren County, we’re clawing back $20.42 million directly to the County’s government – and $27.25 million to Sussex County.  That doesn’t include the direct checks being sent to families, or the supplemental unemployment, help for child care, the resources for our schools, or to help feed those in need.

I think it’s fair to say that we learned a lot — and were forced to adapt quickly — when life shut down a year ago, and businesses, schools, and families across our state were forced to quarantine.  Our hospitals and doctors offices filled up with COVID patients and had to shut down to other patients. Our work meetings moved onto Zoom, and grocery stores and restaurants shifted to take out, and businesses to online orders. And, in most places, our students moved online, too. Remote classes, telehealth, and Zoom conference calls became the norm for most Americans, and for most of my District. And FaceTime became the norm for grandchildren visiting with their grandparents – or for a loved-one to say goodbye through a nurse’s phone in the hospital. 

But one thing we all realized pretty quickly was that huge swaths of the country, including far too many communities right near here, were unconnected. Broadband wasn’t an option for them – so no remote classes, no telehealth, no Zoom meetings. The digital divide and its real impact on our families and businesses couldn’t be starker. Ask any of these mayors that you heard from today, including one of the key Internet Service Providers from the region. Together, we’ve been fighting this fight for years – to get all of our communities connected with actual broadband.  The American Rescue Plan will help change that, and, working together, I’m confident that we can finally bring connectivity to every corner of the Fifth District. It won’t happen overnight, but it will because, like all of you, as it’s been famously said, I still believe in a place called Hope.

When I fought for this provision in the COVID-19 package, for resources to help connect the unconnected rural America, some of my colleagues looked at me like I was crazy. Why would I be fighting for broadband in northern New Jersey? Their jaws dropped when I told them the facts: scores of families and businesses in my District were unconnected, either because there wasn’t fiber to their community or it was impossibly expensive to wire it. 

I remember some of those meetings right after I was elected when these mayors sat me down and explained how many of the homes in their community, plus some of their borough halls, had zero connectivity, even for emergency service coordinators. Nothing. Others had dial-up from a bygone era. And then there were those households the FCC thought were connected, according to their old maps, but they actually had 1/25th of what the FCC considers legitimate broadband-level speeds.  I couldn’t believe it myself. And that’s when we began this crusade for connectivity, because we all knew that Northern New Jersey would never thrive without it. The pandemic just put a fine point on that. 

According to survey data from American Community Survey spanning 2013 through 2017, only 77% of Hope residents had access to broadband. In nearby Knowlton, the data showed 82% had broadband, and White Township next door only had 69% with broadband.

In 2018, nearly 17 million children nationwide lived in homes without high-speed Internet, and more than 7 million did not have computers at home. Those slower speeds mean a student can’t stream live online instruction or participate in live debate with their class — a major barrier for remote, online education. 

These dedicated infrastructure resources that I helped fight for — including the direct dollars to all of our counties and towns for broadband and separately-allocated resources to our state — will ensure that, eventually, all of our families who want broadband can get it — for education for their kids, telemedicine for a senior, or online orders for a small business on Main Street. It builds on the dollars we fought for and won in the bipartisan COVID-19 bill from December, and we are already coordinating our broadband grant applications through that package. 

And it builds on some of the incremental progress made with other local carriers these last few years.

And to give credit where it’s due: it’s because these elected officials, along with so many families and small businesses, made the case. Now, it’s up to all of us to ensure it happens. 

A few other key points that everyone here knows, but I want to make sure all of our shared constituents do, as well. As the largest economy in the world, access to affordable high-speed internet should not be a luxury. The telephone isn’t. Neither is running water. 

In fact, in 1935 we decided as a country that every American — regardless on which paved or dirt road they lived — should have telephone service. It was key to our economy and to our security. The same goes today for broadband. 

Broadband is critical for our recovery from the COVID crisis, so that our families, small businesses, and students can quickly bounce back.

We’ve already had key local successes. Just recently, it was reported that Planet Networks helped the 85 Sussex County students who did not have the technology or reliable internet to attend school virtually. Now, with the help of Planet Networks and their CEO Robert Boyle, access points were installed on major roads — not quite as strong as having cables directly to each house — but helping close that digital divide so that students could log-in to class.

Robert — thank you for your commitment to our community. And thank you for offering to raise your hand as one of the providers willing to bring affordable connectivity to all of our neighborhoods. We will need your continued wisdom and ingenuity to solve this problem for all Northwestern New Jersey seniors, families, and local businesses trying to connect and compete.

As I mentioned earlier, through the new COVID-19 package, we’re expecting to claw back $27.25 million directly to the Sussex County government, and all the Sussex towns that make up the Fifth District will, in total, receive $9.26 million 

And here in Warren County, we’re expecting to bring back $20.42 million to the county government, and all the Warren towns that make up the Fifth District will, in total, receive $6.51 million.

Of that, since we have some of the mayors here, we’re clawing back $182,000 for Hope Township’s government — to help it’s nearly 2,000 residents; $287,000 for Knowlton, $159,000 for Hardwick, $559,000 for Blairstown, $251,000 for Belvidere, and $213,000 for Frelinghuysen. 

The funds will be distributed in two tranches: the first half in the first 60 days, and the remainder by one year from now. State and local government recipients can use these funds to cover COVID-19 costs through the end of 2024.

All of these dollars, if the counties and local governments want to, can be invested in broadband infrastructure and improving broadband connectivity for our residents — a great win for our communities, families, and businesses here in Northwestern New Jersey.

On top of every direct dollar to our counties and towns available for broadband connectivity, as I mentioned, I personally fought alongside my Senate colleagues to include an additional $10 billion federal investment for broadband and infrastructure that will be divvied up to projects nationwide. The State of New Jersey is expected to receive $190 million as part of that investment, and I’m sending the Governor a letter today urging him to invest a portion of those resources to improve broadband here in Warren and Sussex Counties. It’s exactly what these resources are for.

Earlier this month, I brought together Planet Networks, Knowlton Mayor Starrs, Warren County Commissioner Kern — and I want to thank the Commissioner for his leadership on this issues — and many of the other officials here today, for a roundtable with the federal Executive Branch agency principally responsible for advising the President on broadband internet access expansion — the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) — to see how we can all work together. 

I’m proud to be following-up that conversation, and the ones we’ve had for years now, with today’s announcement: real federal dollars, real investment to New Jersey to help get everyone online. This is a big day for us.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, this emergency package is all about helping us get through the pandemic.  So far, New Jersey has administered more than 2,955,000 vaccine doses — with about 1 in 7 New Jersey adults now fully vaccinated.  The legislation includes $60 billion to greater vaccine distribution, deployment, and testing and tracing – and to help ensure we vaccinate critical populations like our educators, and meet the national goal of vaccines to every adult by May 1st.

We’ll also be bringing critical dollars  to our schools to help them safely reopen, to help protect our nursing homes — and to help those who’ve lost their jobs or need help with child care. We extended the $300-per-week federal unemployment benefits through September 6th, and — through efforts I helped lead — we’re providing more tax relief by waiving federal income taxes on $10,200 of unemployment benefits received last year for households that less than $150,000. 

With around 26 million Americans nationwide having faced food insecurity during this crisis, there’s investment for school lunches and summer meals. 

The state and local investment can also be utilized to help pay for law enforcement, firefighters, and EMTs, on top of the broadband investment we’re discussing today. To further support our first responders, there’s also $100 million for the AFG Assistance to Firefighter Grants, and $200 million for SAFER fire and emergency grants — to keep them protected while they protect us all.

We’re also helping lower health care costs — something I’m quite committed to — by reducing ACA premiums for more seniors and more families and we’re subsidizing COBRA premiums through the end of September for those who are out of work. And the bill also helps our rural hospitals — like those in our area here — if they’ve continued to face major shortfalls. 

Overall, this new package is going to help us all here in Warren County and Sussex County by clawing our federal tax dollars back to where they belong – to New Jersey families and communities. 

And I’m incredibly thrilled — as I know many of our local officials are, as well — that we’ll be able to make critical improvements to boost broadband connectivity right here in Warren and Sussex Counties. We all love it here!

We live in the greatest country in the world and I know that working together, our best days will always be ahead of us. 

Everyone, please stay safe and healthy, and God bless.

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