CAMDEN, NJ — It has been about a week since Camden County received $88 million from the federal government as part CARES Act funds for pandemic relief, but Tuesday afternoon officials said it’s still waiting for the rule book over how funds could be dispersed.
"We've not yet received any regulations or directions on how we can spend that money to make sure that it is a grant and not a loan,” said Freeholder Director Lou Cappelli in a virtual press briefing Tuesday morning. “The intent of this money is to assist counties and local governments…and we believe it's to reimburse governments for expenses related to this crisis.”
Cappelli, who has been in contact with Congressman Donald Norcross and on conference calls with mayors from the area twice a week, said the county foresees a way whereby municipalities will be able to apply for the money to offset expected monetary shortfalls.
“We will make sure that we put a process in place as soon as possible to assist municipalities financially because we know they're all going to struggle. We know people are going to have difficulty paying the property taxes,” Cappelli said. “One million New Jerseyans are unemployed right now. That's a huge number. We're a state of 9 million people. So we know there's financial difficulty ahead, and we want to get these funds into the hands of municipalities as quickly as possible.”
As funds were distributed at the start of May, Gov. Phil Murphy said $467 million of the total allotted $2.4 billion in federal aid would be dedicated toward schools. Camden district officials said they will soon clarify how the funds will be of help locally.
At the end of March, Congress passed the CARES Act, providing $2 trillion in spending — as well as $150 billion for state governments during the pandemic. It was the third bill passed by Congress and sent to President Trump to help address the financial strains faced during the COVID-19 outbreak.
When the NJ funds were first announced, Murphy criticized the White House over guidelines he said tied the state's hands to use the money accordingly.
He later amended those sentiments, saying more flexibility had been allowed.
“We have received greater flexibility in how we can use this money — which means more of it will stay here in New Jersey to backstop our efforts against COVID-19,” the governor said in his daily press briefing.