The ACLU of New Jersey today urged the Governor and Legislature to prioritize equity in the FY23 budget, which should be informed by the ongoing repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization is calling for increased funding to provide economic relief for immigrant New Jerseyans who were excluded from federal relief and to continue offering rental assistance for the households who missed payments due to the pandemic. The ACLU-NJ is also advocating for the continued funding of legal representation for detained immigrants, which has been essential in securing releases from detention and slowing the spread of COVID-19. And as the state begins to collect its first revenues from cannabis sales tax in FY23, it’s imperative that an inclusive process is implemented to ensure community reinvestment dollars are allocated to communities most harmed by the criminalization of cannabis. 

“As New Jerseyans continue to grapple with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s as important as ever that the budget reflects the urgent equity priorities across the state,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha. “We commend the Murphy administration for committing to moving New Jersey forward, including investing in education and housing access. In renewing their commitment to creating a fairer, more just New Jersey, Governor Murphy and the Legislature can set a national example when it comes to investing in our communities by building a budget that centers equity and racial justice.” 

The ACLU-NJ urges state leadership to include providing pandemic relief for those previously excluded, allocating funds to assist those facing eviction, ensuring access to counsel for those in detention, and implementing an inclusive process to allow those living in impact zone municipalities to provide input when determining distribution of cannabis community reinvestment funds: 

The ACLU-NJ is calling on Governor Murphy and the Legislature to allocate $1 billion to provide economic relief to hundreds of thousands of people who rely on the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund in FY23. As we enter year three of the pandemic, communities excluded from federal pandemic relief packages continue to advocate for the state to provide equitable funds. Previously, Governor Murphy allocated $40 million toward the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund. Though an important first step, that figure remains insufficient to meet the need of over 400,000 immigrant New Jerseyans who have so far been excluded from previous federal relief efforts.  

“New Jersey can be a national leader in prioritizing equity if Governor Murphy and the Legislature work together to allocate $1 billion toward fully funding the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund,” said ACLU-NJ Campaign Strategist Alejandra Sorto. “Ensuring that all New Jerseyans have access to pandemic relief funding will mean equitable recovery for all, particularly the communities most impacted by racial inequities and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.” 

The ACLU-NJ is urging Governor Murphy and the Legislature to allocate $750 million in rental assistance to ensure New Jerseyans keep their homes in FY23. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Jersey provided a national example when it came to distributing rental assistance, which was vital to ensuring that tenants remained in their homes and landlords continued their livelihood. Now that nearly all of the rental assistance funding has been allocated, tens of thousands of households are still at risk of eviction.  

“Without additional rental assistance, tens of thousands of households in New Jersey will be at risk of eviction,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Joe Johnson. “We're calling on Governor Murphy and the Legislature to allocate $750 million to ensure families are not being evicted from their homes as Covid-19 continues to affect our communities.” 

The ACLU-NJ is calling on Governor Murphy and the Legislature to maintain funding for legal representation for detained immigrants facing deportation at $8.2 million in FY23. New Jersey’s state-funded Detention and Deportation Defense Initiative (DDDI) has provided much needed legal representation to hundreds of low-income detained people who are routinely denied access to due process within the federal immigration system. In the program’s first year, individuals represented through the program were three times more likely to win release than those without representation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, DDDI attorneys have successfully fought for the release of detained individuals, helping to save lives and stem the spread of the virus.  

“We’re calling on Governor Murphy to continue funding the Detention and Deportation Defense Initiative and to ensure no one detained in New Jersey is denied the right to counsel in immigration court,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Farrin Anello. “Data show that this program has led to earlier releases from detention, and this is critical to reuniting parents with their children and reducing the spread of COVID-19.”   

The ACLU-NJ is calling for the implementation of an inclusive and participatory process that allows for community members to provide input in determining how cannabis community reinvestment dollars are allocated in FY23. In FY23, New Jersey will begin to collect its first revenues from the sales tax on legalized adult-use cannabis. Impact zone municipalities – towns defined as having been most harmed by marijuana prohibition – are set to see almost 60 percent of sales tax revenues and 100 percent of an excise fee for community reinvestment.  

“The needs of each of the impact zone communities can only be determined by the people who live there, so it’s essential they have the opportunity to provide their input on how the cannabis reinvestment funds are allocated,” said ACLU-NJ Campaign Strategist Ami Kachalia. “Implementing an inclusive process allowing for community input in distributing cannabis funds – and ensuring these funds aren’t allocated to law enforcement programs – is an important first step toward broader community reinvestment.”