New Jersey First Lady's Sandy Relief Fund Under Fire for Delayed Grants

A Superstorm Sandy relief fund chaired by Mary Pat Christie, the wife of New Jersey governor Chris Christie, has awarded only $1 million of the $32 million it has raised to date, the Asbury Park Press reports.

More than four months after it was created and two months after it publicized an initial commitment of $1 million in startup funds for county-level long-term recovery committees, the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund announced its first round of grants to Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Middlesex, Monmouth, and Ocean counties last week. Mary Pat Christie, who put her job at a hedge fund on hold for two months to chair and raise funds for the organization, cited the logistical challenge of starting a charity from scratch, the fund's focus on addressing long-term recovery needs rather than short-term relief, and her "methodical" approach to putting the necessary resources and safeguards in place as reasons for the delay.

"You want accountability, you get accountability when you go through a methodical structure," Christie told the Press. "So, in three years, when I'm still distributing money at Hurricane Sandy Relief, ask me if we're doing enough."

The pace of the relief fund's disbursement of cash assistance stands in contrast to the Robin Hood Foundation, which expects to award 95 percent of the more than $67.5 million it has raised to date — much of that through the 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief — by the end of March. Earlier this week, Robin Hood announced its latest round of grants, totaling $5.2 million to nonprofits across the tri-state area, including $3.6 million for housing and $1.6 million for benefits counseling.

To help support long-term recovery efforts in the state, the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund plans to target four areas: housing assistance for displaced low- and moderate-income homeowners and renters; social services, including mental health assistance; financial literacy and legal aid; and workforce development. Applications for the next round of grants are due March 15.

"Admittedly we're learning how to do this, but I was also willing to take our time and be careful," said Christie. "I actually think that we're going to be distributing this money at a really opportune time, because [other] organizations will have moved on."