Chiaravalloti calls on comptroller to investigate Christie’s Reach NJ opioid program

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Bayonne Assemblyman Nick Chiaravalloti (D-31) is calling on the state comptroller to investigate ex-Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) Reach NJ opioid program since the multimillion dollar advertising campaign did not not allocate any new funds to drug treatment. 

Screenshots via NJ Reach YouTube.
Screenshots via NJ Reach YouTube.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

Chiravalloti said in a statement that since the program’s inception last year, nearly $34 million have been redirected from school funding including pre-school expansions, new school construction and the tuition aid grant program.

Furthermore, the second term Assemblyman says the commercials served little purpose other than to increase Christie’s profile.

“These advertisements were designed to promote Christie and was not solely created for the victims and families of the opioid epidemic. This is clearly evident by Christie’s prominence in all the ads,” Chiaravalloti stated in a media release.

“These ads were costly, took away from necessary funds and had a limited shelf life. These ads are unusable by any administration. This money could have been spent on treatment
programs to directly assist victims of the epidemic – not wasted on production edits featuring Christie.”

In a January 30th letter sent to the Office of the State Comptroller, Chiaravalloti cites figures from the state Office of Legislative Services that call for further inspection:

Unfortunately, former Governor Chris Christie chose to use money from underfunded budget needs. The Office of Legislative Services has reported that the transfer included:

• $18.75 million from a debt-service fund for payments on school construction maintained by the NJ Department of Education (total from fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2018)

• $8.53 million from Tuition Aid Grants administered by the NJ Department of State (fiscal 2018)

• $8.5 million from the New Jersey Building Authority, an interdepartmental account (fiscal 2018)

• $5.62 million from Preschool Education Expansion Aid, an NJ DOE program (fiscal 2018)

Given that “not one additional bed was opened, not one additional dollar was dedicated to treatment,” the Hudson County legislator wants clarification on who developed the campaign strategy, how consults were obtained and hired, as well as how certain programs were deemed to have excess funds.

Christie’s Reach NJ commercials hit the airwaves in May and also has a limited reach on his YouTube page.

The anti-addiction program cost the state approximately $42 million: $25 million for the 2017 fiscal year and $17 million in the 2018 fiscal year, The Record reported.

“Recognizing that no life is disposable, Governor Chris Christie has acted with a strong commitment to change the conversation in how we treat drug abuse and drug addiction in New Jersey and working past the stigma associated with this disease,” according to Reach NJ’s website.

“In doing so, New Jersey is leading the nation by advancing forward with a focus on treatment first to save lives, restoring hope and giving people the second chance they deserve.”

Late last year, President Donald Trump (R) named Christie, an unsuccessful presidential candidate who was one of the first to drop out and endorse the controversial business tycoon, the chair of a Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.

The commission offered 56 recommendations, including expanding drug courts and increasing federal funding for addiction programs, to Trump in November (h/t PBS).

The Office of the State Comptroller and Christie could not be reached for comment.