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Records show: NJ spending on COVID-19 response tops $2.3B

June 28, 2021 GMT

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey has spent $2.3 billion, about 5% of the state’s overall budget, in expenses related to COVID-19, according to public documents obtained by The Associated Press. That’s up from $222 million in expenses early this year.

The spending goes from the start of the outbreak in March 2020 through this month, with the biggest expenditures coming from the departments of health, law and public safety, and human services.

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday he anticipates the spending will be covered by federal aid disbursed to the state.

“I think you can pretty much assume that the $2.3 billion will be covered by federal funds,” he said during a remote news conference.

The $46.4 billion budget on his desk, which Murphy is expected to sign, calls for letting the governor spend up to $200 million of federal funds at his discretion, though in increments up to $10 million. The remaining federal money is subject to oversight from a joint legislative budget committee, which Democrats control 4 to 2.

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The expenditures cover vast ranges, and frequently for vague reasons. For example, the Legislature billed just $3.89 to the office supply vendor WB Mason last July, according to the documents. Then there are vastly higher costs, like $29.2 million to Xtend Healthcare LLC that the Health Department recorded this month for the “coronavirus pandemic.”

New York and New Jersey, early hotbeds of the virus, were the only two states last year not to provide detailed breakdowns of spending and suppliers in response to AP public records requests.

Murphy has said he’s committed to transparency, and his administration released more detail in the latest batch of records. However, it was difficult in many cases to determine exactly what was purchased and in what quantity.

For instance, there was a transaction of $50.5 million dated November 2020 for a program called “COVID-CRF State Police Salaries” with no detailed explanation. The state Education Department conducted a transaction of $24.2 million last July for “COVID Education Medical.” There’s not further detail included.

Even so, the documents include more than similar public records requests yielded earlier during the outbreak. A similar request for public documents earlier this year resulted in records showing vendor names and costs, but lacking details like the transaction date.

The latest batch of documents includes the transaction date, for instance.

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat, said public finance should be transparent.

“Every dollar we spent is taxpayer money, whether it comes from the federal government, state or local government,” she said. “The taxpayers have a right to know where every dollar goes.”

New Jersey got more than $6 billion in federal aid under the latest bill Congress and President Joe Biden passed. Murphy and lawmakers must decide how to allocate those funds.