Today, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-6) sent a letter to the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Agriculture calling for an investigation into what the congressman cited as Governor Chris Christie’s administration’s redirection of federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) funds to pay for the Governor’s newly announced opioid ad campaign, Reach NJ.
According to media reports, when questioned about the source of funding for the Reach NJ ad campaign, the Christie Administration provided a copy of a 2014 contract totaling $1.5 million with marketing agency Princeton Partners. That contract, however, was intended to support a public awareness campaign to increase enrollment in WIC, and it used federal dollars, Pallone noted.
The congressman complained that Republican elected officials across the nation frequently attempt to weaken social safety net programs such as SNAP and WIC.
“I fight hard in Congress to protect programs that provide vital support to those most in need,” he said. “It is deeply concerning that the Governor appears to have taken funds intended to increase awareness and participation in a program that provides nutrition to mothers and infants, and instead is using the funds for another ad campaign in which he has the starring role. We constantly hear Republicans decrying waste and fraud in government programs, and it seems like in the funding of this ad campaign, we may have found it.
“I have been a leader in Congress to provide funds for opioid treatment and research, and will continue to do so. However, we cannot stand for funds intended for the WIC program to be covertly redirected to an unrelated ad campaign,” Pallone added.
Below is the full text of the letter:
The Honorable Phyllis K. Fong
Office of Inspector General
United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250
Dear Inspector General Fong:
I write regarding recent and alarming reports that Governor Chris Christie’s Administration has shifted Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) funds away from their designated purpose in order to promote an opioid addiction hotline and website in New Jersey. I ask that your office thoroughly investigate this matter and, if appropriate, take corrective action.
When asked by media outlets about the source of funding for the Governor’s newly announced opioid ad campaign, Reach NJ, the Christie Administration provided a copy of a 2014 contract totaling $1.5 million with marketing agency Princeton Partners. That contract, however, was intended to support a public awareness campaign to increase enrollment in WIC, and it used federal dollars.
WIC is one of our nation’s most successful and cost-effective nutrition intervention programs, resulting in improved birth outcomes, healthcare savings, cognitive development, and other lasting benefits. However, in order for this program to be successful, it is critical that those who could benefit from WIC are aware of the program and encouraged to enroll.
Since the state’s contract with Princeton Partners for WIC outreach was signed in 2014, enrollment has declined approximately three percent, which in real terms means almost 9,000 fewer New Jersey mothers and children have the resources WIC is designed to provide. This comes at the same time that enrollment in other low-income assistance programs is up. Clearly, the need for WIC has not decreased even as the money intended to encourage enrollment has failed to meet its purpose.
New Jerseyans and the American people deserve the appropriate and most efficient use of federal funds, and they deserve answers when legitimate questions arise. I ask that you investigate the sources of funding for the Reach NJ advertisements, work to determine exactly how the funds intended for WIC enrollment outreach have been used, and report if any improper use occurred. Doing so will provide much needed clarity to the people of New Jersey and ensure that federal dollars are being used for their intended purpose. I thank you for your consideration of this request.