New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D), who assumed office in 2018 and continues in his quest for another three years in the general election on Nov. 2, 2021, recently joined the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University for a press briefing with journalists for ethnic and community media across the state of New Jersey.
Murphy responded to a slate of questions that focused on a variety of topics and issues – from the COVID-19 pandemic and immigration to wealth disparities and housing discrimination – all of which often impact communities of color with far greater severity than whites.
In his opening statement, the governor asserted his administration understands that diversity serves as the state’s greatest strength, enriching “every facet of our lives from our kids exposure to different cultures and languages and every kind of cuisine to the entrepreneurship the immigrant communities strengthening New Jersey’s economy.”
The first question came from a reporter who covers the African-American and Latino communities in South Jersey. He asked Murphy how his budget for the state will address long-standing disparities which exist within Black, Latino and other immigrant communities – inequities further exacerbated because of the pandemic.
Murphy: The pandemic did not create the inequities, but it’s laid them there – public health, job opportunity, housing, education, you name it. And as we recover, and we are recovering, it’s going to be very important to not just get back to where we were when this thing started but to take the state to a place it’s never been before.”
“It’s investments in education in all communities at a record level. It’s investment in more affordable housing which has been a hallmark of our budget. Finding ways to doggedly reduce those gaps, both with money and with programs and policy has been a front and center priority from day one for us and will continue to be.”
Question: New Jersey reports an estimated 425,000 undocumented immigrants, many of whom have been excluded from federal aid, especially during the pandemic. What’s your plan to ensure that hard-working immigrants, most of whom pay taxes, will find a path to public benefit? What is your position on immigration reform?
Murphy: “Four or five months ago, we were able to put a package of $40 million together to go to persons previously excluded from any other federal COVID-19 support. And that was largely not entirely but largely undocumented brothers and sisters. I’m committed to working to find more resources. And I would hope that in the legislative session after the upcoming election, there can be action taken at the state level that can that can grow that number.”
Question: Blacks, Hispanics and immigrants who live below the poverty line are more likely than white adults to report persistent symptoms of serious psychological distress, particularly in the time of pandemic. What will you do to reduce some of these barriers so immigrants and people of color can have easier access to mental health care?
Murphy: “There’s no question that mental health strains have been experienced at a far greater level due to the pandemic. And as you rightfully point, overwhelmingly in immigrant and communities of color and immigrant communities. But there are a number of different resources that the state has all of which are free of charge. However, we ought to be thinking even more broadly about more effectively getting that information to communities who we know are suffering at disproportionate rates. It could not be more important than right now and I’ll make sure we get that information out to everybody.”
Question: What are your plans to address housing discrimination and segregation against immigrants and people of color?
Murphy: “The biggest part of my answer is we must do our job which is to enforce the law. It’s one thing to have the right laws on the books. But it’s another to make sure they’re equally enforced up and down the state. If reporters or other citizens provide specific examples of the law being broken, we will take unscrupulous landlords to task.”
Question: New Jersey has nearly 150 ethnic and community media outlets serving immigrants and people of color. Some states, including California, have committed a substantial portion of their advertising and marketing budgets to ethnic media. Many of our outlets reach audiences which due to language and cultural barriers are harder to reach by your administration. Will you commit to doing the same thing in New Jersey?
Murphy: “I wouldn’t necessarily commit but it’s something I would absolutely consider. We do some of this already. Whether it’s in my government life, or in my political life, as I’m running for re-election, we engage with a lot of local organizations such as those represented during this press briefing. We do this with some regularity. But I believe your question illustrates a smart way to get to people. And frankly, in a more targeted, closer to the ground way than the larger media players, whether they be print radio, or television or digital. I like the concept and I will take this up with our colleagues.”