It’s been three months since Gov. Chris Christie issued an executive order holding in reserve over $100 million that he had previously approved as part of the state budget package that he signed into law on June 30. A large portion of those funds – approximately $50 million – were earmarked for critical programs that nonprofit organizations provide: for victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse; courtroom advocacy for abused and neglected children; services for Holocaust survivors; housing and supportive services; prisoner reentry programs; small-business development centers; and many others.
The governor has repeatedly conditioned the release of the funds on the achievement of health benefits savings for public employees and public retirees, a battle that does not involve nonprofit organizations and over which they have no influence.
The release on September 20 of a portion of the previously held funds will certainly provide relief – albeit needlessly delayed – to some of those organizations. But we must not forget that roughly $16 million in funding for community organizations is still being held, and critical needs are going unmet. That $16 million is a small fraction of the state budget, but for nonprofits, it means a lot of services to vulnerable people in our community.
With each day that this untenable situation drags on, more people are hurt: an abused child who has no one to speak for them in court; ex-offender trying to learn new job skills to forge a new path in life; person with a disability who needs vocational training; entrepreneur trying to start a small business; kids who need a safe place to go after school while their parents are at work; people suffering from aphasia; and many others.
Real lives are on the line here. The nonprofits that provide these critical services have already had to cut back on staffing and program hours. The philanthropic community is deeply concerned because it cannot fill the gap over and above the grants its provides. If remaining funds are not released soon, some of these programs may close permanently.
These vital organizations and programs have been caught in the middle of a dispute that has nothing to do with them and which is out of their control. The lives that can be saved through these services are too important to be used as a bargaining chip.
The governor has the power to end this crisis immediately. We appeal to him to prevent additional harm by releasing the remaining funds without further delay.