Over a year ago, NJEA, like every other entity in New Jersey and around the nation, ceased doing business as usual. NJEA staff worked from home as NJEA headquarters in Trenton and every field office across the state closed. Meetings with members moved to remote platforms. NJEA’s conferences and other events were presented online.
While there were still considerable expenses associated with running remote versions NJEA’s larger events, such as the NJEA Summer Leadership Conference and the NJEA Convention, there were nonetheless fewer funds expended than would have been for in-person meetings and events.
At the same time, many members and their families were suffering. Even if the educator member of the family continued to receive a paycheck, household incomes fell if the noneducators in the family lost their jobs or had their hours reduced. Educational support professionals (ESPs) were particularly at risk of lost or reduced incomes even as local, county and state association leaders successfully fought to make sure ESPs continued to be paid by their districts.
From the lessons learned following Superstorm Sandy when NJEA created a Disaster Relief Fund, the NJEA Delegate Assembly established a Pandemic Relief Fund Subcommittee at its Sept. 12, 2020 meeting, directing the subcommittee to investigate and recommend how NJEA could use funds that were unspent because of the pandemic.
The subcommittee acted fast to ensure assistance could be made available as soon as possible, asking the NJEA Executive Committee to put in place an immediate relief program to address food insufficiency. On Dec. 9, 2020, the Executive Committee unanimously approved short-term funding of up to $100,000.
But it didn’t take long to realize that much more assistance would be needed. In just a little over a week after the program was implemented, NJEA approved 68 applications totaling $62,402. By Dec. 20, NJEA had received 160 additional applications equaling an estimated $148,800. The subcommittee recognized that the original allotment of $100,000 approved by the Executive Committee wasn’t nearly enough.
Consequently, the subcommittee went back to the Executive Committee to ask for additional interim funding to meet members’ urgent nutritional needs. The Executive Committee, in an emergency session on Dec. 21, voted to allocate an additional $400,000 in interim funding bringing the amount available for the program up to $500,000.
On Jan. 9, the Delegate Assembly increased the allocation for the Pandemic Relief Fund to $1.5 million. The program offers three levels of assistance based on the number of people in a household and based on U.S. Department of Agriculture October 2020 food cost figures.
While the food assistance program was underway, the subcommittee dedicated itself to finding other ways to assist members during the pandemic in the areas of mental health, social services, and finances. AID-NJEA (866-243-6532) is one such resource.
In late May, the first webinar to come out of the subcommittee’s efforts, “Debt, Dollars, and Disasters” was presented with the tagline, “Whatever life throws at you, NJEA Member Benefits has the resources to help you take control of your personal finances.”
This is what unions do. We stand together always, but especially when times are tough. AID-NJEA was launched in the wake of 9-11, and it’s still just a phone call away. The NJEA Disaster Relief Fund was created in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, and it is still assisting members who experience severe property loss because of fires or natural disasters. And now the Pandemic Relief Fund is meeting members needs as they face food insecurity.
This crisis will pass, but what will not pass is NJEA’s commitment to its members, and NJEA members’ commitment to each other.
As of May 12, 2021, the NJEA Pandemic Relief Food Assistance had assisted nearly 1,500 members and their families—affecting over 5,000 individuals—who were experiencing food insecurity as a result of the economic repercussions of COVID-19.
Applicants approved: 1,429
Approximate number of people fed: 5,153
Approximate cost: $1,332,399
Applications pending: Approx. 100
Pending cost: Approx. $100,000
Total approved and pending costs: Approx. $1,432,399
Number assisted by county:
Atlantic – 359
Bergen – 15
Burlington – 40
Camden – 19
Cape May – 17
Cumberland – 121
Essex – 71
Gloucester – 38
Hudson – 51
Mercer – 7
Middlesex – 6
Monmouth – 49
Morris – 8
Ocean – 219
Passaic – 337
Somerset – 10
Sussex – 3
Union – 56
Warren – 1
Number assisted by category
ESP – 942
Professional – 485
Retirees – 2
Number receiving $599 – 332
Number receiving $930 – 741
Number receiving $1,250 – 356