Editorial: Billions in COVID $$ still sitting around

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Given the magnitude of the amount allocated, it’s unlikely we’ll ever truly know the extent to which con artists, fraudsters and elected officials stole, wasted or misappropriated the billions in taxpayer funds distributed as part of the government’s response to the pandemic.

But one thing we do know: Washington showered so much money on states and local governments that most haven’t come close to spending it all. Recently, the Government Accountability Office released a quarterly report that tracks coronavirus spending through March 31, about three years from the onset of the pandemic.

“States reported obligating 60% ($118.3 billion) and spending 45% ($88.2 billion)” of State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, the office reported. “Localities reported obligating 54% ($67/5 billion) and spending 38% ($47.9 billion) of their awards during the same period.”

How was the money distributed?

“The states and localities reported spending the largest amount of their awards to replace revenue lost due to the pandemic,” the GAO found. “Specifically … 45% ($39.5 billion) of states’ reported spending and 68% ($32.4 billion) of localities’ reported spending was used for this purpose.”

In other words, state and local governments are still sitting on billions in unspent virus cash — and the money they have spent went primarily to pad their coffers rather than to aid businesses or individuals who were harmed by shutdowns and business closures.

Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute told Reason that the analysis highlights Washington’s lack of fiscal discretion. “By the fall of 2020, it was clear that the states were in good fiscal shape and not facing Armageddon as many policymakers were claiming,” he said. “They did not need federal handouts.”

Yet congressional Democrats insisted on using virus relief as a slush fund that blue states could tap to disguise fiscal mismanagement.
The GAO also revealed that “14% of localities did not report to Treasury their uses” of these federal funds, as required by law, so it’s impossible to know where those billions went.

No doubt, pandemic relief was warranted during those unprecedented times, particularly in early and mid-2020. But the GAO report reveals an exercise in excess that federal taxpayers are still paying for today. Not only should Congress take action against local governments that fail to report how they used pandemic funds, it should also consider clawing back billions in unspent funds from states and localities.

As the national debt roars past $33 trillion, it’s time to shut down the party.

Las Vegas Review-Journal/Tribune News Service


Editorial cartoon by Joe Heller (Joe Heller)

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