Governor Chris Christie, call your office.
Thursday marked the third anniversary of Superstorm Sandy that ravaged the East Coast. While the direct impact of the storm caused tremendous damage and suffering, the human, and political, consequences are still unfolding. A new report, however, finds that of the $47 billion appropriated by Congress for Sandy disaster relief, more than $30 billion remains unspent.
That urgent need to shovel billions of taxpayer dollars into the northeastern U.S. turned out to be not so urgent after all. And, just in case you wanted to monitor how that $30 billion will be spent in the future, you are out of luck. The national “Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board” designed to provide oversight of the money appropriated for Sandy relief shut down last month.
According to the report, “$26 billion of the $47.9 billion in funding appropriated by the Sandy Supplemental had been awarded as of March 21, 2015, with a total of $15 billion of those funds having been paid out.”
That indicates that something in the realm of $30-plus billion was not, in fact, needed— or if it was, it was “needed” to be spent on things other than what it was appropriated for.
Furthermore, “of the $15.2 billion designated to the Community Development Fund, only $2.79 billion has been paid out. The Public Transit Emergency Relief Program holds the second largest reserve of unspent funds, with only $0.91 billion of $10.35 billion having been paid out. In fact, of the $36.99 billion in non-FEMA funding designated to government programs in the Sandy Supplemental, only $6.93 billion has been paid out.”
Got that? The vast majority of money appropriated in the Sandy Aid package has not been allocated, let alone spent. And the federal agency providing oversight has closed.
It gets worse, though. Where money was spent, a lot of it has been mis-spent.
Since January 2013 the office of Inspector General has opened 225 investigations and initiated 72 audits across various agencies. From those investigations, the various OIGs identified $226.9 million in questioned costs and recommended $76.7 million be reprogrammed for better use of funds.
Three years is several life-times in politics. The image of Gov. Christie greeting Barack Obama in the aftermath of the storm, just days before the 2012 elections, had some not insignificant effect on the outcome of that election. Behind the bro-mance, Gov. Christie lauded Obama publicly for the government’s alleged quick response to the disaster.
This report, however, raises a question. What exactly was that response and how much federal government assistance was actually needed? It is certainly understandable that not all of the funds appropriated by Congress would be spent within three years. But, is it reasonable to expect that only one-third of the funds would have been spent?
When Congress was rushing through disaster relief in the final days of the 112th Congress, conservatives balked at the enormous price tag of the package. They worried that the haste to pass something invited waste, fraud and abuse. Christie excoriated House Republicans in the press.
“There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: the House majority and their Speaker John Boehner,” Christie declared. “It is why the American people hate Congress.”
“Shame on you, shame on Congress,” Christie continued. “My hope is that the good people in Congress will prevail upon their colleagues to finally put aside the politics and help our people now.”
Christie also assured the public that there were no wasteful projects in the relief package. He said that he and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had thoroughly reviewed the package and substantiated the need for the spending. “Those guys should spend a little more time reading the information we sent them and a little less time reading political talking points put together by their staff,” Christie said.
It seems, however, that there wasn’t a rush. Around two-thirds of the “urgent” needs, which Christie “substantiated” are still unspent, three years later. Perhaps now that Christie aspires to be President of all 50 states, rather than just New Jersey, he can be a little more open about what happened to all that money.
After all, the oversight board tracking the money is now closed. It would certainly be curious if the money started flowing now.