TRENTON – Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration is under fire for transferring a total of $20 million into a program that provides pandemic-relief payments to immigrants who are in the country illegally.

The two $10 million transfers flouted a requirement in the state budget that the Legislature approves such spending.

Republican lawmakers say the transfers to the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund appear to have violated state law, as the 2022 budget enacted requires a vote by the Joint Budget Oversight Committee for any transfers of federal pandemic relief funds exceeding $10 million to any program.

“It seems clear the Murphy administration exceeded that authority by appropriating $20 million for payments to illegal immigrants without the sign-off of the Legislature,” said Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cumberland. “Treasurer (Elizabeth Maher) Muoio should be called before the budget committee to explain the Murphy administration’s disregard for the law.”

'It’s incredible how power-drunk Gov. Murphy and his administration gets.'

Two transfers, 11 days apart

Republicans say a notification from the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services shows that the Department of Community Affairs made two transfers of $10 million each from the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund to the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund in the Department of Human Services.

One transfer was made April 18. The second was made April 29.

“This obviously isn’t the first time that Murphy and his team have decided checks and balances aren’t important,” said Assemblyman Hal Wirths, R-Sussex. “If you give big government advocates an inch, I can guarantee they will take a mile and take their time to justify it. It’s incredible how power-drunk Gov. Murphy and his administration gets.”

Murphy spokeswoman Alyana Alfaro said the transfers were made appropriately.

"Each allocation from the governor’s $200 million set aside is made in allocations of $10 million or less, in accordance with the administration’s interpretation of budget language," Alfaro said. "The ENJF has been expanded through a series of programmatic phases, each of which has been announced publicly."

attachment-excluded new jerseyans fund
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Immigration advocacy groups criticized the program’s bureaucracy, after which it was simplified, extended and made more generous

Help for those barred from federal aid

The Excluded New Jerseyans Fund provides unauthorized immigrants who were excluded from federal stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits with payments of $2,000, maxing out at $4,000 per household. To be eligible, people had to be state residents and 18 years old and living in a household with an income under $55,000.

Immigration advocacy groups criticized the program’s bureaucracy, after which it was simplified, extended and made more generous. By its close at the end of February, the program had around 38,000 applications; as of mid-April, 7,000 had been approved, 29,000 were in review, 2,000 were withdrawn or inactive and 400 were deemed ineligible.

The program initially had $40 million in funding, before the two $10 million transfers.

Testa said OLS says the state treasury’s Office of Management and Budget has ignored three requests for an explanation of the transfers over the last month. However, the administration says Lynn Azarchi, the acting OMB director, responded on May 24.

“The Murphy administration has demonstrated that they can’t be trusted to follow the law on their own,” Testa said. “This is exactly why Senate Republicans have called for strengthening legislative oversight of Murphy administration spending in our comprehensive budget plan. We need to monitor the administration closely and hold them accountable whenever they try to turn New Jersey Treasury into a slush fund for Gov. Murphy.”

Screenshot of website for Excluded New Jerseyans Fund (Townsquare Media NJ)
Screenshot of website for Excluded New Jerseyans Fund (Townsquare Media NJ)
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More money may be needed

In a budget document, the Department of Human Services projected total expenditures could reach $80 million, which would require additional allocations. DHS said the fund “is made up of multiple, $10 million pandemic-related programs that the governor was able to allocate at his discretion.”

In his proposed 2023 state budget, Murphy removed the language that exists in the current budget giving the Legislature a say in transfers of pandemic recovery funds exceeding $10 million.

Lawmakers in both parties have insisted in budget hearings that the oversight language be included in the final legislation.

In the 2023 budget plan, Murphy proposed additional $500 payments to over 100,000 people with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number who didn’t receive federal stimulus aid during the pandemic. That would be paid for using $53 million in federal funds.

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Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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These are the best hiking spots in New Jersey

A trip to New Jersey doesn't have to be all about the beach. Our state has some incredible trails, waterfalls, and lakes to enjoy.

From the Pine Barrens to the Appalachian Trail to the hidden gems of New Jersey, you have plenty of options for a great hike. Hiking is such a great way to spend time outdoors and enjoy nature, plus it's a great workout.

Before you go out on the trails and explore some of our listeners' suggestions, I have some tips on hiking etiquette from the American Hiking Society.

If you are going downhill and run into an uphill hiker, step to the side and give the uphill hiker space. A hiker going uphill has the right of way unless they stop to catch their breath.

Always stay on the trail, you may see side paths, unless they are marked as an official trail, steer clear of them. By going off-trail you may cause damage to the ecosystems around the trail, the plants, and wildlife that live there.

You also do not want to disturb the wildlife you encounter, just keep your distance from the wildlife and continue hiking.

Bicyclists should yield to hikers and horses. Hikers should also yield to horses, but I’m not sure how many horses you will encounter on the trails in New Jersey.
If you are thinking of bringing your dog on your hike, they should be leashed, and make sure to clean up all pet waste.

Lastly, be mindful of the weather, if the trail is too muddy, it's probably best to save your hike for another day.

I asked our listeners for their suggestions of the best hiking spots in New Jersey, check out their suggestions:

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