Audit: Governor misused COVID funds for wages | News, Sports, Jobs
DES MOINES – A state audit report on government spending released on Monday accused Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds of using nearly $ 450,000 in federal coronavirus relief funds to pay salaries for 21 staff members for three months last year and cover up expenses by going through the State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
State auditor Rob Sand said a review of the state’s payroll system shows the money was used to pay staff in the Republican governor’s office, but it is unclear why it has had to take federal money to pay wages.
“What is not clear is why these salaries were not included in the governor’s budget set before the fiscal year and before the pandemic,” he said in the audit report. “Based on this information, we conclude that the budget deficit was not the result of the pandemic. “
Sand said he twice asked Reynolds’ office for documents to support the expenses and was told that governor’s staff in March, April, May and June 2020 were fully focused on COVID-19 response and protection of Iowa but have never provided evidence of spending on the COVID response.
He wrote to Reynolds’ office in October, telling him that paying staff salaries without the proper documents is unlikely to gain federal approval, but said they ignored his suggestion.
Sand said he requested information from the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and initially received a spreadsheet listing the governor’s employees with a section titled Deficit for Fiscal Year 2020 and amount of $ 448,448.86. A later version was sent to him in which the section title was changed to COVID-19 Personnel Costs with the same amount of money.
“That spreadsheet that shows they changed the headers wholesale instead of saying a lack to say COVID 19 is a pretty big deal,” he told The Associated Press, suggesting that the Reynolds administration’s attempt to cover up the use of federal money was aimed at closing a wage gap.
Alex Murphy, spokesperson for Reynolds, said in a statement that the US Treasury Department has authorized the use of the coronavirus relief money to reimburse governors’ salaries.
“During this period, the governor’s staff spent the vast majority of their time responding to the pandemic. In fact, many of Governor Reynolds’ staff worked seven days a week in the State Emergency Operations Center to provide direct support to the people of Iowa, ” the statement said. “This has always been our justification for the expense. We are now working with the treasury to provide them with documentation, at their request. “
Reynolds had previously raised the issue in September at a press conference after Laura Belin, editor of the liberal-leaning online blog Bleeding Heartland, reported on the matter after searching for documents through the Law on the Iowa Public Archives.
Reynolds then said federal coronavirus relief law allowed the payment of wages for workers whose job requirements had been significantly altered as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“CARES funding can be used for salaries. It is very clear in what are the authorized allocations ”, she said.
Sand said his office deepened the spending because the Inspector General’s office requested an investigation. He said the federal agency looked at his office’s findings and agreed with them. It could be a problem for Reynolds’ office to try to provide documents after telling the auditor’s office twice that they did not have such documents, Sand said.
“If you come up with documents after the fact after saying twice that you don’t have them, that should be of concern as well. “ he said.
Sand said the state may be required to return the money to the federal government.
The audit is not the first time Reynolds has spent federal funds for unapproved use.
In December 2020, Reynolds had to return $ 21 million in COVID-19 relief money after using it to upgrade an outdated state computer system.
The funds were initially allocated to payments related to the state’s contract with Workday, a cloud-based human resources, finance and planning system implemented to modernize the state’s IT infrastructure. Of the allocation, $ 4.45 million had already been spent.
Reynolds said U.S. Treasury officials initially assured the state that Project Workday was an eligible expense, but have now determined that the payments were not allowable expenses under federal aid law, coronavirus relief and economic security.