Tag Archive: Hurricane Sandy NJ Relief Fund

Sandy Relief Fund: No Accountability and a Big Pay-Out a Few Days Before Elections

Jon Bon Jovi of Sayreville, New Jersey beaches, and rock fame generously donated $1 million yesterday to the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund (HSNJRF) whose Board Chair is Mary Pat Christie. When critics of HSNJRF raised questions in March about the organization’s legal status and slow start-up, she said, “You want accountability, you get accountability when you go through a methodical structure,” Sounds reasonable but after eight months we have seen little accountability. HSNJRF has yet to report data to the NJ Charitable Division. It’s file (registration #: CH3558500) lists a series of zeros next to all Expenses and Fund Raising categories. HSNJRF also has not yet submitted any financial data (Form 990) (E.I.N. #: 36-4745729) to the IRS.

As a result we have to rely on information from HSNJRF’s website which indicates it has awarded $10.6 million in grants through April 30 to non-profits, and on NJ.con quoting Mary Pat Christie, that it has received $38 million in donations.

It’s Time for Mrs. Christie’s Sandy Relief Fund to Get on the Ball

What’s up at the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund (HSNJRF)? Founded in the midst of the storm, the fund has raised over $32 million, but none of that aid has reached storm victims yet.

On December 27 Chair Mary Pat Christie said, “While our board is looking at long-term needs, the board felt it was important to provide sizeable assistance to help immediate needs as well.” She explained that the charity’s board voted during its Dec. 20 meeting to release its first $1 million to Long Term Recovery Committees. She went on to say, “This will be the first of many ongoing disbursements in the coming weeks and months to help New Jersey come back stronger than before.”

However, we now approach five months post-Sandy, with no relief yet in the hands of those who need it. Shannon Mullen reports for AP that Mrs. Christie says, “I have taken excruciating steps to make sure that we give the money out in a really judicious way.” Additionally:

Mary Pat Christie’s defense of her charity’s performance, however, comes on the heels of the pointed barbs her husband, Gov. Chris Christie, has hurled at FEMA and House Speaker John Boehner, among others, for what the governor sees as inexcusable delays in helping the state’s residents, businesses and communities still reeling from the Oct. 29 storm. Christie famously called Congress’ holdup of Sandy relief “disgusting.”

Storm victim Gigi Liaguno-Dorr appears to concur with that assessment. Regarding HSNJRF, she says, “That’s absolutely 100 percent unacceptable, because we want help yesterday.” She is still battling her insurance company over the destruction of her Union Beach restaurant.  

Other relief agencies have acted with a sense of urgency. Robin Hood Foundation, which sponsored the NYC concert has awarded more than $50 million in grants to dozens of nonprofit groups, with nearly 40 percent of the funds earmarked for relief efforts in New Jersey.

While there is value in Mrs. Christie being “judicious,” a hurricane of Sandy’s size calls for considerably more urgency and speed. People need help. These delays are inexcusable, and are signs that the fund has not been up to its task. It is time for Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund to get on the ball.

Waiting/forgetting/not knowing which to do

Waiting is painful. Forgetting is painful. But not knowing which to do is the worse kind of suffering. Paulo Coelho

There is too much waiting, forgetting, or not knowing which to do nowadays:

  •  U. S. Senate Sandy legislation: Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid signaled yesterday afternoon that he would try to push ahead with a package to aid Superstorm Sandy victims even as debate continues on revisions to the Senate’s filibuster rules. However, it is not on today’s Senate schedule and may not be taken up until after the rules situation gets resolved. Come on Senators, people are hurting and need the funds.

  •  Undecided Democratic candidates for Governor: The primary is not until June 4, but time has about run out. For example, anyone seeking the Bergen County Democratic Party “line” must notify the committee in three weeks – by Feb 15. Bergen’s nominating convention is on March 5. Senator Barbara Buono has stepped out onto the stage. At this point any bashful candidates hiding behind the curtain should know it is beyond time to come out into the spotlight.

  •  Governor’s decision on raising the minimum wage bill: Christie must either sign, veto, or conditionally veto this legislation by early next week. He has said he opposes the indexing feature which automatically raises future rates based on the CPI. With a veto the legislature should move to put the matter on the ballot. Christie could have announced his decision earlier, but sadly we can expect a depressing press release some evening soon.

  •  Hurricane Sandy NJ Relief Fund: In spite of pledges of $31 million this group has yet to distribute any monies. $1 million has been allocated in its first round of grants, which may go out by mid- February to long-term regional recovery committees, which in turn will then make awards to local agencies. Slow as molasses.

  •  Halfway house reform: The NY Times broke its story about the correctional horrors (particularly at CEC) in June last year. The legislature rushed to hold hearings, and then to Christie’s delight dropped the ball. Whatsup?

  •  Roe v. Wade: This ruling has been trampled on in the last 40 years and awaits a rebirth with strong current popular support, while state legislatures simultaneously passed 135 laws restricting it in 2011 and 2012. The US Supreme Court, legislatures and Christie should take note and rejoin the 21st century.

  •  Federal climate change, immigration, energy and gun safety legislation: Little action so far but they are no-brainers.

    Whether it’s waiting, forgetting, or not knowing which to do, it’s painful.

     

  • Sandy Relief: “Show Me The Money”

    OK. Cuba Gooding was a tad crass in the film Jerry Maguire when he said, “Show me the money!” And the same might be said in reference to expectations for Sandy relief. Nonetheless, while we in New Jersey are very much in need of help, funds for affected individuals and projects are being delayed. Our Congress has yet to vote on the $60 billion relief package, and even if they pass a bill in a few days the federal government will be averse to a rapid distribution because it is facing a debt ceiling crisis. The State because of its own woeful budget position is hard-put to find extra funds and also faces a cash flow problem. Some foundations have rushed to provide monies while others have not. Also because the State has extended the revenue/expenses filing deadline for some Sandy foundations, information on their funding will be delayed, and their schedule for disbursements may be altered.  

    The Senate may approve the aid bill today (and it could possibly be at a reduced amount), but what will happen in the House is far from clear. Our dysfunctional congress remains in a seemingly endless and precarious position with one foot over the fiscal cliff – a deadline agreed to by its members – but one which the Tea party House members particularly seem unwilling to resolve. Not only is the cliff dominating the discussion in Congress, but once again Tea Party members and even Representatives concerned about facing a primary from a more conservative opponent appear hesitant to take up or vote on Sandy relief.

    Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in announcing The United States will reach its $16.4 trillion borrowing limit on Dec. 31 said, “The government has $200 billion worth of “extraordinary” actions it can employ to prevent default.” Unfortunately, until the debt ceiling crisis is resolved, “extraordinary” actions would likely include reduced funding of new projects like Sandy relief. Another delay.

    As the Office of Legislative Services points out, State revenue growth has been basically flat in the first five months of the fiscal year, at 0.1%. Governor Christie’s budget was based on an absurdly high 8% increase. As the Star-Ledger indicates,“Combined with the $253 million budget gap left over from last year, the total $704 million hole would consume the entire $600 million financial cushion, and even then, officials would have to reopen the books to slash funding for other items.”  Not a pretty picture for people hoping for relief from the state.

    The Robin Hood Foundation, a NYC-based group, has already announced over $2 million in Sandy relief funds distributed to NJ organizations prior to its widely viewed “12-12-12” Concert, including $1 million to the Affordable Housing Alliance, $150,000 to Borough of Keansburg Trust, and $400,000 to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey. However, the highly promoted Hurricane Sandy NJ Relief Fund, founded two months ago and under the direction of Mary Pat Christie, has yet to disburse any relief. In a rather bureaucratic move its main board voted last week to release $1 million of its pledged $28 million to subcommittees which will decide on its allocation. They say they will begin accepting proposals in January for grants. In the meantime, the Division of Consumer Affairs Charity Registration Section announced it will allow some registrants affected by Hurricane Sandy additional time to file reports. Such will delay public information availability on what charities have funded, allow scamming groups more time to avoid detection, and could impact schedules for disbursement.  

    Mary Pat Christie Defends Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund

    An interview article in today’s Star-Ledger with Mary Pat Christie indicates that the embryonic Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund is taking steps to create a credentialed and more robust organization. The interview addresses concerns about the fund raised in three Blue Jersey diaries, particularly, Think Twice Before Donating to Christie’s Hurricane NJ Relief Fund, as well as here and here.

    After listing several donors to HSNJRF, including Hess and AT&T, the Blue Jersey diary raised a conflict of interest concern: “These large firms may be seeking to curry favor with Governor Christie.”  In the Star-Ledger article Mrs. Christie says, “to suggest that somebody could be currying favor, it just doesn’t ring true.”



    The Blue Jersey article pointed out that “HSNJRF states it is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization but does not indicate whether contributions are tax deductible.
    In fact the IRS Tax Exempt database does not list HSNJRF as a tax exempt group.” Mrs. Christie said, “The application for federal tax-exempt status was submitted Friday and, once approved, the exemption will be retroactive.”  The fund apparently was raising money and representing itself as a 501 (c) (3) organization before it applied to the IRS. Ultimately, it is only the IRS which will determine whether HSNJRF meets the criteria. Even after a disaster and even if the principals are well known people, this should have been made clear: the IRS often responds slowly so it may be some time before donors learn whether their contributions are indeed tax exempt.

    The Blue Jersey article noted that unlike other relief  funds there would be no “rapid distribution of monies or assets” as implied in early statements. Mrs. Christie said, “they have not yet determined how to distribute the money.”

    The Blue Jersey diary indicated that early on “There was no discussion with a board of directors as to goals, objectives and action plans because no board existed.” The S-L article indicates “More trustees may be added, but for now the first lady [said] Bill Palatucci, a Republican national committeeman and the governor’s close friend, and Jerry Zaro, a Democratic fundraiser and economic czar under Gov. Jon Corzine are registered as the trustees of the fund.”  It is good that now two Board members have been appointed but more are needed to be effective.

    As a close confidante, donor, and fundraiser for Governor Christie, Bill Palatucci’s appointment does not reduce the concern for conflicts of interest. Palatucci’s management position at the much-maligned Community Education Centers (from which he just resigned) and his defense of this halfway house organization do not inspire confidence. The also maligned informant Solomon Dwek claimed Jerry Zaro was a “big help when certain approvals were needed.” Zaro was never charged with any wrongdoing.  

    Think Twice Before Donating To Christie’s Hurricane Sandy NJ Relief Fund

    Governor Christie’s Hurricane Sandy NJ Relief Fund (HSNJRF) has certainly succeeded in raising money, particularly from large firms which routinely lobby state government, and has raise the image of Chris Christie who will likely re-run for governor. However, other existing organizations are already operating and are better equipped to respond to the disaster. HSNJRF has not announced donations are tax exempt, existence of a Board of Trustees, hiring of an experienced, qualified executive to run the organization, any grant or award to individuals, or a conflict of interest policy, It has provided very little information about itself, and some of its statements appear misleading.

  •  HSNJRF’s single-page website solicits donations but provides scant information: a Mendham post office box, email address, photo, and message from Mary Pat Christie. On its facebook page HSNJRF states it is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization but does not indicate whether contributions are tax deductible. IRS is granting expedited 501 status to Hurricane Sandy charities, but often withholds exempt status determination pending further review. In fact the IRS Tax Exempt database does not list HSNJRF as a tax exempt group.  According to one report, as of November 9 over 4,000 people had contributed to the fund, many of whom may have assumed their contributions are tax deductible. An email response from HSNJRF on Saturday provided some additional information about the organization (including its Employee ID #: 36-4745729), but another email request yesterday asking about its tax exempt status has elicited no response.    

  •  Governor Christie garnered press attention, praise and applause at his November 3 Little Ferry Town Hall meeting when he announced the creation of HSNJRF. He went on to say his wife Mary Pat would run the fund. By all accounts Mary Pat Christie is a bright, successful Wall Street executive, but there should be a seasoned professional with experience in management of large philanthropic non-profits to run the group. There has been no announcement of such a hiring nor of other needed staff members.

  •  At the Town Hall affair Christie said his wife would appoint a board of directors to establish criteria for how money would be distributed. HRNJSF was created by Christie only days after Sandy struck us, and it soon became apparent that little planning or action had taken place to build a successful foundation. There was no discussion with a board of directors as to goals, objectives and action plans because no board existed. A board, in fact is the entity responsible for directing a charity’s activities. A board is also a requirement for approval as a 501 (c) (3) exempt status organization.

    There is more below the fold, including contributors, why monies are not being spent now, how much will be used for relief, and advice to potential donors.