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Murphy takes more steps to reopen state, Rutgers offers temporary policy change for future applicants

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Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J) and other state officials have taken further steps this week to reopen and aid the state's recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. There have been 158,844 positive cases and 11,531 deaths in New Jersey as of today, according to the state's COVID-19 Information Hub.

On Tuesday, Murphy clarified that professional sports teams that train and play in New Jersey are authorized to return to training camps and competitions, if their specific sport league permits them to do so through an executive order issued on Friday. He said this decision was made through discussions that indicated proper sanitation and protocols would be upheld for the safety of all individuals within each facility.

Additionally, Murphy said socially distanced outdoor graduation ceremonies are permitted to begin July 6 and must follow guidance released by the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) and the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education (OSHE).

"Certainly these will be graduations unlike any others," he said. "The steps we are taking are necessary to ensure the health and safety of everyone in attendance, but we are equally as confident no one will ever forget the way we will celebrate the Class of 2020."

For New Jersey college and university graduations, all institutions must certify their plans to hold drive-in, drive-through or modified in-person ceremonies with OSHE through an online submission form on the state's COVID-19 Information Hub beginning June 5, according to a press release. They are also advised to keep local officials informed of any ceremony plans.

These institutions must follow capacity limitations on in-person gatherings at the time of the ceremony, which may require them to hold multiple ceremonies over the course of multiple days, according to the release. The minimum number of staff and faculty needed to facilitate these ceremonies must also be determined.

The New Jersey DOE provided guidelines for K-12 school graduation ceremonies, according to a press release. For in-person ceremonies, school districts must follow capacity limitations on in-person gatherings at the time of the ceremony, as well as having attendees maintain 6 feet from one another and wear face coverings. School districts are asked to consider shortening the length of ceremonies to limit the amount of time attendees are exposed to one another and to assign staff to monitor entrance and exit points and to consider shortening the length.

If districts plan to hold drive-in ceremonies, they must make accommodations to allow attendees without vehicles to participate, according to the release.

Murphy also temporarily extended the deadline to file a property tax appeal to July 1 through legislation, according to a press release. He also extended the deadline for county boards of taxation to provide decisions on tax appeal cases to Sept. 30.

"Our current public health crisis has substantially disrupted many of our routine processes, including the ability of New Jersey homeowners to file timely property tax appeals," Murphy said, according to the release. "Establishing clear dates for tax appeals and decisions will eliminate the potential for a backlog that would only cause further fiscal uncertainty for taxpayers and municipal governments."

Yesterday, Murphy discussed the current standing of state unemployment claims. He said that as of Saturday, 911,000 of the 1.7 million total claims have been filled and $4.3 billion has been paid out in benefits.

"Quite simply you all have paid into the system to protect you in times like this, and the (Unemployment Insurance) system is there to help see you through," Murphy said. "The staff at the Labor Department continues its hard work to clear claims to ensure that every New Jerseyan who qualifies for unemployment benefits receives every single penny to which they are entitled. No one will lose any part of their benefit (due to) a time lack."

Due to closures among the COVID-19 pandemic and the availability of standardized testing, Rutgers-New Brunswick announced this week that the SAT and ACT tests will be optional for students applying to the University for admission for the Spring and Fall 2020 semesters, according to a press release.

This is a temporary policy change and students who wish to still submit a test score with their application are still able to do so, according to the release. Additionally, Rutgers-New Brunswick is expanding the list of English language proficiency tests it will accept from international applicants for those same semesters.

"The college search process can be stressful for high school juniors and rising seniors and their families even in the best of times," said Rutgers-New Brunswick Chancellor Christopher J. Molloy, according to the release. "Our adoption of this temporary, test-optional policy will ensure full consideration for qualified students whose ability to take the SAT or ACT is being disrupted by this global pandemic."

During today's press conference, Murphy issued a new executive order that allows for child care services to resume on June 15, as well as for the resumption of organized sports practices on June 22 and youth day camps on July 6.

He also announced the creation of a $100 million short-term rental assistance program for low and moderate income families who have been negatively impacted by the economic effects of the current public health emergency.

"From the moment this emergency took hold, we have made it clear that no family should fear losing their home as a result of financial hardship due to COVID-19 and as another rent day approaches, I want to reiterate that point," Murphy said. "Our strong eviction and foreclosure moratoriums remain firmly in place and will remain enforced until weeks after this emergency eventually comes to an end."

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