TRENTON — Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday declared an indefinite moratorium on evictions or removal of people from foreclosed homes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The executive order was issued immediately after Murphy signed the law, which was passed Thursday afternoon, granting him the authority to freeze evictions.

The eviction bill passed the Assembly with 60 votes and five abstentions from Republicans. In the Senate, it passed with 34 votes and no opposition.

The law would allow the governor to to issue an executive order during a public health or state of emergency. The order could last for two months after the emergency is over. The law allows eviction or foreclosure proceedings to be filed or heard during the emergency, but authorities would have to refrain on acting on any removal orders unless a judge determines "that removal is necessary in the interest of justice."

The swift action came on the same day that New Jersey counted four more deaths and 318 new cases of COVID-19, the devastating disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

It also follows actions being taken by federal officials scrambling to deal with a mounting public health and economic crisis. So many people tried to claim unemployment benefits in New Jersey this week that the Department of Labor's website crashed on Monday and Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac said Wednesday that they would be suspending all foreclosures and evictions for at least 60 days.

Murphy, who said that people already anxious about their health should not have to also worry about losing the roof over their heads, also asked financial institutions to hold off on foreclosure and default proceedings. The New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, meanwhile, is offering free financial counseling to renters and mortgage holders.

“The steps I am outlining today will help those who are suffering financial harm through no fault of their own continue to stay afloat as we work our way through this," Murphy said in a written statement. "They will also bolster public health by ensuring that residents facing eviction or foreclosure can stay in their homes, protecting them against increased risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19.”

On another front, the U.S. Small Business Administration approved Murphy's request for a disaster designation, paving the way for aid to businesses and nonprofits facing immediate financial need, including $2 million loans.

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Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.