Mary Pat Christie, the first lady of New Jersey and wife of Gov. Chris Christie, has yet to distribute any of the funds from her relief charity four months after Hurricane Sandy hit the Garden State, according to the Asbury Park Press.
Christie, who serves as chair of the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, says she thinks it’s reasonable that the charity hasn’t distributed any of the $32 million raised, the Asbury Park Press reports. She attributed the delay to her “methodical” approach, focus on long-term projects and the grant requests recovery groups have to submit. Christie told the news outlet that the organization will distribute $1 million in grants this week and an additional $5 million a few weeks later.
The governor rushed to his wife’s defense on Monday, reiterating the first lady’s point that her charity was never meant to provide immediate relief, the Associated Press reported.
But Gov. Christie’s demand for patience stood in stark contrast to his outrage just a couple of months ago, when he felt New Jersey wasn’t getting the relief it needed. In January, he infamously called Congress "disgraceful" over lawmakers' initial failure to pass legislation for Hurricane Sandy relief.
"This used to be something that was not political,” Christie said at the time, when the House delayed bringing a Sandy aid bill to the floor. “Disaster relief used to be something that you didn't play games with."
Though the Christies insist the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund is following standard protocol, some victims desperate for help aren’t satisfied with their approach.
"That's absolutely 100 percent unacceptable, because we want help yesterday," Gigi Liaguno-Dorr, a restaurant owner whose business was devastated by Sandy, told the Asbury Park Press. "She's the governor's wife. If anybody can push it through, she can. Let's move it."
To Mary Pat Christie’s credit, some watchdogs say nonprofits that focus on rebuilding programs should take more time doling out funds. Ben Smilowitz, executive director of the Disaster Accountability Project, told WNYC in January that it’s the responsibility of organizations dealing with immediate issues to disperse donations quickly. Smilowitz was criticizing the American Red Cross, which as of the end of December had collected $249 million and had spent only $110 million.
"Ultimately, if there are still needs on the ground, which there are, it’s fair to expect organizations with a lot of cash still sitting in the bank to step up to the plate," he told WNYC, "hopefully with the same urgency as their Sandy fundraising appeals."
The Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund's ultimate goal is to give support to reputable organizations that focus on housing, social services, financial literacy, legal aid and workforce development.
"There are so many worthy organizations on the ground day in and day out providing critical services to those in need in the hardest-hit areas around New Jersey. They want and can do more with greater financial support," Mary Pat Christie said in a press release last month. "We are proud to partner with them and are looking forward to efficiently disbursing funding that will help the long-term recovery effort in this state."