NJ needs transparency over coronavirus funds, advocates say

The report claims that many people of color have historically been “channeled into using predatory financial services and denied access to sources of financial skills.”

“Historically, there have been large amounts of investments in punitive measures,” Romans-Henry said. “However, not nearly enough in the way of programs that really empower our young people, such as financial literacy programs, or mentorships, or internships.”

Romans-Henry, who plans to testify at one of this week’s hearings, also called on the state to invest in initiatives that combat food insecurity in low-income neighborhoods, high maternal mortality rates for people of color, and a rise in mental health emergencies .

Transparency over the rollout of funding

Advocacy groups and some state lawmakers have recently criticized state leaders over transparency in the state’s budget and allocations process, especially as it relates to ARPA funding — which Gov. Phil Murphy has some authority over.

“The overall consensus, I think, from the community is that they are dissatisfied with how things have been rolling out, there seems to be a lack of transparency,” Romans-Henry said. “Our communities are in dire straits.”

Romans-Henry said there needs to be more public accountability even after funds are allocated.

“[Reports need to be] available for people to actually reference to see how things are rolling out. So I think the hearing is a good step in the right direction, but it by itself is not enough,” she said.

In April, the New Jersey Policy Perspective, or NJPP, published a report tracking how the state had spent funds that were already allocated, noting that much of the allocated portion had not been spent yet.

Peter Chen, a policy analyst at NJPP, stated that New Jersey’s public hearings on spending are missing a step that ensures accountability and full transparency for state residents.

“I think the missing step has been that there’s public comment, and then they go back and cook up whatever their proposal is,” Chen said. “Once they announce the proposal, basically that’s it. There’s no more real opportunity for feedback before it’s either voted on or it’s already a done deal.”

Senate Budget Officer Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) agreed that transparency over funding-related issues in Trenton can be lacking. In June, he complained that key decisions in the state’s fiscal year 2023 budget, which took effect last month, happened in back rooms with little input from the public and his Republican colleagues in the Senate.

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