A report claims that $7 million in pandemic assistance that may have been distributed inappropriately may be owed by New Jersey fishermen.

An audit of COVID relief spending for New Jersey’s fisheries found that nearly half of the $14.4 million awarded to businesses may have been overpaid or distributed without adequate internal review of applications. (Source: Philly Voice)

Federal Funds Distributed to New Jersey Fishermen for Pandemic Assistance

According to an audit done by the office of Acting State Comptroller Kevin Walsh, more than half of the $14.4 million New Jersey distributed in federal monies to commercial fishermen through the pandemic aid may need to be returned. This is because the recipients may not have been qualified to receive the funds, as reported by The Square Center.

According to the comptroller’s office, around 41% of the payments, or $5.9 million, are potentially subject to recoupment since the recipients were either more than whole after receiving the funds or weren’t qualified for relief payments under the program’s rules. According to the comptroller’s findings, an additional $1.1 million in relief payments are liable for recoupment since the applicants did not present sufficient evidence to back up their awards when asked.

The government CARES Act gave fisheries pandemic assistance in 2020 to assist businesses in recovering from the pandemic’s economic effects. Walsh said in a memo to Sean Moriarty, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, that once payments are made, the state organization’s duty to guarantee that taxpayer monies are spent effectively and efficiently does not stop. He said that agencies administering pandemic assistance programs must not only have adequate controls in place to prevent fraud and improper payments but also respond quickly when potentially improper payments are subsequently detected.

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Pandemic Assistance Recoupment for Another Assessment

To lessen the possibility of fraud, waste, or abuse, the agency has also introduced stricter controls for allocating federal monies to other COVID-19 programs that it oversees, according to the comptroller’s office.

According to Walsh, the work is not done when the money is distributed. The Fisheries Program’s performance depended on the timely receipt, processing, and distribution of applications, as well as the distribution of funds.

According to industry statistics, New Jersey has one of the greatest commercial fishing industries in the country, producing over $8 billion annually and supporting over 50,000 employees.

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