A watchdog report from the U.S. Treasury found New Jersey used just a slither of the $2.3 billion of its federal COVID-19 relief money, even as the Murphy administration vies for billions more dollars, and Congress and the White House hash out a new bailout package.
According to the treasury’s inspector general, New Jersey only spent $51 million – or 2.1 percent – of federal relief from the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act as of July 23.
Jennifer Scioritino, a spokesperson for the New Jersey treasury, maintained that the numbers from the federal report were out of date, and only showed a “snapshot from over a month ago.”
“At this point the administration is in the process of allocating hundreds of millions of dollars for a wide range of critical purposes, some of which were recently announced – funding for Main Street businesses, food banks, and to bridge the digital divide in schools – and others which will be rolled out in the coming days and weeks,” she said.
Gov. Phil Murphy, when pressed on just how much of the CARES Act money the state used, assured that most of the money had either been allocated or spent.
“It took a long time to get the guidance we needed from the feds in the U.S. Department of Treasury in terms of how to spend that money,” the governor said on July 24. “We have allocated all of it that we can. In some cases, it’s been spent. In other cases, it’s been allocated, but not yet spent.”
Matt Platkin, the governor’s chief counsel, said at the same press conference that the administration was attempting to make the money last over a considerable amount of time.
“They’re programs that are in place, to the governor’s point, that are being spent over many months and without a guarantee of additional federal money,” Platkin said. “It wouldn’t be prudent to put that entire amount of money out in one program all at once when it’s going to cover a wide variety of needs in response to the pandemic.”
Congressional Democrats and many governors argue the money is vital for states that have seen their tax revenues crater as a result of the global pandemic. Murphy warned that without federal help, the state could have to slash another $1 billion of funding for local schools, on top of a slew of cuts to police and fire, teachers, social safety net programs and health care infrastructure.
The governor has been warning for weeks that the state faces a $10 billion loss of revenue through the end of June 2021, as the pandemic and ensuing recession cause massive sums of tax dollars to evaporate.
Compounding that could be another financial hit to the state and its economy from a widely expected second wave of COVID-19 that coincides with the fall flu season, and upward of another $20 billion in shelled out expenses to prepare for and try to contain the pandemic.
But state Republicans have accused the governor of needlessly stashing away billions of dollars of state CARES Act money.
“While Gov. Murphy is sitting on more than $2 billion of federal relief funds, we have businesses across New Jersey that still haven’t gotten a penny of aid to help them survive the many impacts of COVID-19,” Sen. Michael Doherty, R-23rd District, said in a July 23 statement.
“He’s squirreling away billions for his own purposes while acting like the crumbs he’s doling out through his benevolence are going to save New Jersey,” he said.