A just released budget report from the State Auditor’s office reveals the Murphy Administration is still sitting on more than $5 billion in unspent COVID relief funds doled out by the Feds nearly two years ago.
That stunning revelation immediately drew a sharp response from both State Senate Minority Leader Steven Oroho (R-24) and Senate Republican Budget Officer Declan O’Scanlon (R-13).
“Senate Republicans have questioned for three years why the Murphy administration has shown absolutely no urgency in using billions of federal pandemic relief funds to help New Jersey families and businesses in a timely manner,” said Oroho (R-24). “The State Auditor’s latest report showing that more than $5 billion of American Rescue Plan funds remains unspent after two years confirms everything we’ve been saying.”
Only $1.1 Billion Spent
According to the report, the Murphy administration received $6.2 billion dollars in federal COVID aid from the American Rescue Plan on May 19, 2021, of which just $1.1 billion dollars has been spent.
GOP Plan Ignored
“In contrast with the Murphy Administration’s failures, Senate Republicans offered a detailed plan to use relief funds efficiently and effectively to support small businesses, fix our broken unemployment and MVC computer systems, stop unnecessary tax increases, protect school funding, and help families in need,” said O’Scanlon.
“Unfortunately, Trenton Democrats refused to listen and many serious problems that could have been addressed with these funds remain inexplicably unresolved.”
At the time, Republican members of the State Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee appealed to the Murphy Administration along with the Democratic legislative majority, to come up with their own plan, and debate them where their ideas and views on a particular issue could be exchanged with GOP lawmakers and publicly discussed, along with allowing the public a chance to be heard.
Murphy Has “Dropped the Ball”
However, that bipartisan approach suggested by the GOP in how to effectively disperse the surplus COVID relief funds was quickly rebuked by Democrats.
“The Murphy Administration dropped the ball in its handling of the $2.4 billion of CARES Act funds that came to New Jersey last April,” said O’Scanlon. “He sat on the money for months and then used it to pay for ordinary government expenses rather than helping people.
“With another $6.5 billion in federal relief coming to New Jersey, we can’t afford to let him make the same mistake on an even bigger scale. Our plan is the first step in reasserting the Legislature and public into the appropriations process.”
The Republican Budget Committee members had purposed a comprehensive budget plan to directly address the needs of its citizenry, long ignored by the governor. They proposed the following detailed plan in how to use the $6.5 billion surplus:
- $2.5 billion to restore stability to New Jersey’s Unemployment Insurance Fund, with $1 billion earmarked to retiring debt before interest incurs, and $1.5 billion dedicated to preventing employer tax increases;
- $1.5 billion over three years for capital projects by both the state along with public and private schools and institutions of higher learning, including local municipalities’ libraries, and authorities, in lieu of issuing more debt or increasing user costs for critical services;
- $1 billion over the next year, for business and nonprofit assistance for employers still recovering from COVID-19 revenue losses;
- $500 million for public schools to prevent the school aid cuts proposed by Murphy for three years;
- $500 million to modernize the state’s antiquated computer systems, including those that handle unemployment claims, Motor Vehicle Commission transactions, and 9-1-1 calls; and
- $500 million to expand mortgage and rental assistance programs that have been restricted to renters with very low incomes, and support other short-term social services programs.
GOP Address Current, Future Needs
Oroho said that the GOP plan puts the $6.5 billion of federal funds to use in a responsible way that will help New Jersey overcome the challenges of the pandemic.
“We address both current and future needs to support New Jersey’s recovery and propose modernizing the unemployment and MVC computer systems that have caused unnecessary pain for millions of New Jerseyans over the past year,” said the Sussex County lawmaker.
“If we don’t undertake those costly upgrades now when we have the money, they’re unlikely to happen any time soon.”
The American Rescue Plan aid has been held by the Murphy Administration has held in its State Fiscal Recovery Fund (SFRF) since it was received. Several projects that received allocations have not yet used any of the funding, including $300 million for water infrastructure, and $120 million to create a universal preschool facilities fund through the Schools Development Authority.
A spokesperson for the governor’s office said the SFRF “is not intended to be short-term spending. “Unlike the $2.4 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund, which was intended for emergent and short-term COVID response and recovery needs and was fully expended in just over two years, the SFRF is intended for long-term strategic recovery and resilience. As a result, the American Rescue Plan set an expenditure deadline of Dec. 31, 2006.”