Newark’s Comprehensive Response to COVID-19: Mayor Baraka Leads the Way

On Sunday, February 2, Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka received an alert. Federal authorities had chosen Newark Liberty Airport as one of the few American landing sites for the last planes from China. From that moment on, Mayor Baraka has proactively applied comprehensive, data-driven strategies to track and contain the COVID-19 virus. The Mayor instructed his administrative staff to develop City protocols and procedures immediately, wary the virus might begin its insidious march through Newark’s population before federal and state guidelines were formed.

Since then, the Mayor has acted swiftly and aggressively to protect the health, wellness, safety, and financial security of Newark citizens. He has developed innovative, sustainable programs to ensure the City and its residents can recover financially when the pandemic passes.

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the Mayor has not wavered from his Newark Forward values and remains committed to ensuring all policies are rooted in building a safer, empowered, more educated, equitable, and collaborative city.

The Mayor’s vision for a better Newark is the guiding force in a crisis. The decisions he has made, as outlined below, have left no one behind, giving the same immediate attention to protecting the City’s most vulnerable populations, small business owners and their employees, homeowners and landlords, and cultural organizations and nonprofits.

As the very first case in Newark was reported, Mayor Baraka ordered a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions and gave extended deadlines for payment of city taxes, water, and sewer bills. “We need to take action right now, today, to help residents and small businesses weather this health emergency and continue to thrive once we are on the other side of it,” the Mayor said in the early days of the COVID-19 spread.

The City of Newark developed a five-point plan focusing on key areas to protect residents:
• Education
• Testing
• Enforcement
• Recovery
• Results

To do so, the Mayor implemented these special initiatives:
• Created a four-city travel ban with the mayors of East Orange, Orange, and Irvington; and collaborative sanitizing programs for businesses and senior complexes.
• Utilized Public Safety technology and data to track and map COVID-19 cases to identify geographic outbreaks within the City.

• Closed all non-essential businesses and enforced an 8 p.m. curfew. Closed roads to vehicular traffic and issued summonses for people violating shelterin-place orders or not maintaining proper social distancing. Shut down any business not enforcing social distancing.
• Established “Be Still Mondays,” an initiative to ask all businesses and corporations to close and all people to stay inside in a cooperative show of solidarity against the COVID-19 spread.
• Provided residents in need with food, face masks, gloves, and pamphlets that warn the community about the importance of using personal protective equipment.
• Began a daily 5 p.m. live Facebook briefing to keep residents informed about city-wide operations, social distancing, and shelter-in-place mandates.

Mayor Baraka also introduced initiatives to address economic distress in response to COVID-19:
• Up to $1 million with grants ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 to qualified 501(c) (3) non-profit organizations.
• Approximately $1 million investment in rapid, short-term rental housing for 300 vulnerable Newark residents, including those without permanent addresses.
• Up to $1 million investment in community-based non-profits that serve Newark residents.
• Up to $2 million for a small business grant program, offering about 200 business grants up to $10,000 to provide working capital for operating costs, payroll, accounts payable, inventory, equipment, rent, taxes, licensing, or other business-related expenses.
• A $1 million investment in the “Live Newark” program to provide down payment and rehabilitation funds for up to 100 Newark homeowners.
• Up to $750,000 arts initiative investment that will assist up to 30 arts and cultural organizations with operating funds and capital funds.
• Potential tax reductions for commercial building owners with savings passed along to small business tenants through rent reduction.

Mayor Baraka has also reiterated support for a guaranteed basic income using Congressional stimulus during the crisis as an example of “Americans needing more cash in their hands.”

“This pandemic has shown the long epidemic of families living paycheck to paycheck,” the Mayor said. “One unexpected bill or drop in wages can find families in their own crises. The need for cash will be ongoing, and so, too, must be our response.”