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New Jersey Spent $520K of COVID Funds on Officials’ SUVs

The state government used more than half a million dollars of its $6.24 billion in COVID relief funds to buy SUVs to transport Gov. Phil Murphy and other officials around the state. Here’s how the rest of the money was spent.

(TNS) — Much of the federal coronavirus relief money went to help hospitals, assistance programs, and counties in New Jersey recover and rebuild after the pandemic.

The state government also used more than half a million dollars to buy SUVs to carry Gov. Phil Murphy and state officials around the state.

The expenditures were revealed in a memo the state Treasury Department recently sent to state lawmakers detailing 46 ways New Jersey allocated millions from the $6.24 billion in COVID-19 relief money it received from the U.S. government.

Other money covered baby formula for residents in need, license plate readers for police to fight car thefts, and maps to improve school security.

The document shows the State Police spent $522,783 to purchase eight vehicles to “support” officials — including Murphy and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver — “who are responsible for responding to the COVID-19 public health crisis.”

Such a move is eligible for the funds because “these officials provide leadership and lend support to the State’s COVID-19 recovery efforts at vaccination sites, hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities and other affected sites,” according to the memo.

Murphy’s office did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Politico New Jersey was the first to report about the document, noting the state paid for eight Chevrolet Suburban SUVs for the State Police’a Executive Protection Unit.

The unit protects all New Jersey governors and other top officials and escorts them to appearances. Murphy frequently held events during the pandemic, including regular televised briefings to update residents on the virus.

The Treasury Department sent the memo to the Joint Budget Oversight Committee — a panel of lawmakers from both the state Senate and Assembly — on Jan. 17 to outline how the state used $200 million in American Rescue Plan funds included in the current state budget that took effect last July.

Under a deal with lawmakers, Murphy’s administration is allowed to decide how to spend pandemic relief money approved by Congress on items less than $10 million, up to $200 million total. The committee has to approve anything more than that.

When the budget was enacted last year, it did not include specifics on how the money would be used. This memo details those expenditures.

The document says the governor’s Disaster Recovery Office reviewed the programs to determine they are eligible.

This comes as Republican lawmakers have routinely criticized Murphy, a Democrat, for mishandling COVID-19 funds and not allocating money that remains unspent.

The other items in the memo include:

  • $10 million to the state Department of Labor to help return unemployed New Jerseyans to work.
  • $10 million to New Jersey Economic Development Authority to provide nonprofits grants to buy meals at restaurants and distribute them for free to the community.
  • $10 million to the Department of Human Services to help low-income households that were excluded from other COVID relief programs.
  • $2 million to the Long Branch Health Monitoring and Telecommunication Center to house the city’s Health Department and accommodate testing, vaccination, contact tracing, and educational resources for public health.
  • $1 million to Trinitas Medical Center in Elizabeth to expand the inpatient unit for adults who suffer from a dual disorder.
  • $1 million to Overlook Medical Center in Summit to help bolster infrastructure to limit airborne contaminants during the pandemic.
  • $981,000 to the state Department of Law and Public Safety’s Division on Civil Rights to create a program to combat the rise in housing discrimination complaints that have occurred during the pandemic.
  • $500,00 to Salem County American Legion Ambulance Associations to help cover operations and payroll from the county’s response to the pandemic.
  • $10 million to the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency to create the Foreclosure Intervention Program to help residents facing foreclosures.
  • $7 million to the state Department of Law and Public Safety to create a program to help communities acquire and enhance gunshot detection technology and related infrastructure improvements.
  • $6 million to Atlantic Health Hackettstown and Newton Hospitals for capital improvements to address the spread of the virus and other diseases in congregate settings and to expand mental health services.
  • $6.3 million to Capital Health Trenton Hospital to expand its emergency department, which operates in a qualified census tract.
  • $10 million to state Department of Community Affairs’s Local Government Services to provide grants for local and regional fire departments for proper fire protection, cleaning, and sanitization equipment.
  • $9.2 million to the state Department of State for staffing at voting locations throughout the state because the department increased the daily rate for poll workers from $200 to $300 for the 2021 general election.
  • $5.25 million to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson to expand its psychiatric emergency services and maternity units to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases.
  • $5 million to Salem Medical Center to reimburse coronavirus-related expenses.
  • $4 million to the State Police to combat attrition because of the pandemic and for staffing.
  • $10 million to the state Department of Law and Public Safety’s Division of Criminal Justice to invest in technology and software to enable automatic license plate recognition amid a series of car thefts.
  • $5 million to the state Department of Children and Families to acquire infant formula to give to families in need across the state.
  • $8.5 million to the state Department of Children and Families for programs to help young people achieve their educational and life goals.
  • $10 million to the state Department of Law and Public Safety to help victims of gun violence.
  • $6.5 million to the state Department of Law and Public Safety to finish creating digital maps of all the state’s schools that law enforcement can access in case of emergencies.
  • $10 million to the state Department of Health for an electronic health record system for the state’s behavioral health hospitals and special treatment unit.
  • $1.2 million to Atlantic County to administer grants for infrastructure at local health departments as they address the impacts of COVID-19.
  • $4.2 million to Bergen County to administer similar grants.
  • $2.3 million to Camden County to administer similar grants.
  • $426,000 to Cape May County to administer similar grants.
  • $684,000 to Cumberland County to administer similar grants.
  • $3.8 million to Essex County to administer similar grants.
  • $1.4 million to Gloucester County to administer similar grants.
  • $578,000 to Hunterdon County to administer similar grants.
  • $1.7 million to Mercer County to administer similar grants.
  • $3.8 million to Middlesex County to administer similar grants.
  • $2.9 million to Monmouth County to administer similar grants.
  • $2.3 million to Morris County to administer similar grants.
  • $2.9 million to Ocean County to administer similar grants.
  • $2.3 million to Passaic County to administer similar grants.
  • $290,000 to Salem County to administer similar grants.
  • $1.5 million to Somerset County to administer similar grants.
  • $648,000 to Sussex County to administer similar grants.
  • $2.5 million to Union County to administer similar grants.
  • $493,000 to Warren County to administer similar grants.

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