TRENTON – A Republican state senator is questioning whether it was permissible for the state to pay $62.5 million in State Police salaries and administrative costs through the $2.4 billion in coronavirus aid it got through the federal CARES Act.

Senator Mike Testa, R-Cumberland, said the money appears to have been used to reimburse the state for the salaries of troopers doing their regular job, some only tangentially involved with the pandemic such as marine police.

“The notion that the federal money was intended to pay the salaries of people so remotely involved in any way with COVID-19 matters certainly calls to my mind a lot of this into question,” Testa said at a Senate budget committee hearing Thursday.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said he didn’t know the details of the example Testa raised but that the trooper from the Marine Service Bureau could have helped build a temporary morgue or worked at a vaccination or testing site.

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“The State Police is front and center in this and so it incurred significant expenses,” Grewal said. “We’ve been tracking those expenses using our monitoring systems. We’re in compliance with the rules, and we have appropriate safeguards in place to make sure that’s the case.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided the State Police with $750 million to cover pandemic response expenditures. On top of that, the state charged $50.5 million in salaries and $12 million in overhead to its CARES Act allocation, as well as $60 million for radio system upgrades.

“This seems to be a game the state played to take money meant to help people and just wash it into the general budget,” Testa said.

Grewal said the spending followed federal and state Treasury Department guidance.

“We’re abiding by all the rules that the federal government attached to them. We put on top of those rules and guidelines additional guidelines and oversight. And I’m confident that the moneys are being used in the proper way,” Grewal said.

Grewal said the COVID funds being spent by state, county and local governments in New Jersey have multiple layers of oversight – a disaster recovery office, compliance and oversight task force, integrity and monitoring program and more, including the prospect for prosecution if needed.

He said the systems were adapted from past infusions of federal aid, such as after Superstorm Sandy.

“Those are the checks we’ve put in place,” Grewal said. “This is always a challenge in these situations because you want to get that relief money out to those who need it, but you want to do so in a way where you’re careful stewards of public finances.”

Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, said those multiple layers are needed with unprecedented amounts of federal funds flowing through the state.

“We need those funds. Don’t get me wrong. We need them,” Sarlo said. “We’ve got to get them into the hands of the people that need them the most.”

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