State audit: Evers administration should give more detail on federal COVID-19 spending


A nonpartisan audit recommends Gov. Tony Evers’ administration ought to be extra clear about the way it has distributed billions in federal COVID-19 aid funds and the way it plans to spend practically $2 billion of remaining cash. 

Wisconsin acquired a complete of $5.7 billion in federal coronavirus help between March 2020 and the tip of June 2022, in response to the Legislative Audit Bureau report, “Choices In regards to the Use of Supplemental Federal Funds.” Of that, $2.2 billion was distributed by Evers’ Division of Administration to different state companies just like the Division of Income, Division of Well being Companies, and Wisconsin Financial Improvement Company.

The audit bureau’s report states there are nonetheless $1.9 billion in remaining federal funds, which Evers’ administration indicated it has plans for utilizing. 

The bureau used Wisconsin’s inside accounting system to find out that funding went towards issues like small enterprise restoration grants, public well being emergency provides, native authorities restoration grants and packages that assist the state’s tourism and farming industries. 

Evers has unilateral discretion in how a lot of the federal funds are spent. In January 2022, Republicans within the state Senate handed a proposed constitutional modification to require a legislative committee to approve a spending plan first. The modification would sidestep a possible veto from Eves, however should move two consecutive periods of the Legislature and be authorised by a statewide referendum earlier than going into impact. 

A letter from state auditor Joe Chrisman to members of the Legislature’s audit committee says the Division of Administration didn’t present the audit bureau with data the company and Evers’ workplace thought-about when deciding find out how to use $4.5 billion in discretionary federal funds.

“Offering clear and complete data will permit legislators and the general public to extra readily establish how these funds are spent sooner or later,” Chrisman wrote.

Auditors sought funding requests, agendas and minutes of conferences, the report mentioned.  

“In response to our request, DOA offered us with publicly out there data, reminiscent of press releases, hyperlinks to state company web sites for the packages, and grant bulletins for packages involving grants,” the report mentioned. “DOA didn’t present us with documentation of the method or the knowledge DOA indicated it and the Governor’s workplace had thought-about in deciding to make use of discretionary funds for the 9 state packages.” 

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The audit report presents suggestions for the Governor’s workplace, the Division of Administration and state lawmakers. They suggest the administration ought to doc how choices relating to the billions in discretionary funds have been made and report back to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee by Feb. 17. The bureau additionally beneficial the knowledge be included on the Badger Bounceback web site. 

Lastly, the report suggests the Republican-controlled Legislature might modify state regulation to require the Division of Administration to report quantities of federal funds it receives, how they have been spent and plans for funding explicit state packages sooner or later. 

In a letter responding to the auditors questions and proposals, DOA Secretary Kathy Blumenfeld mentioned the company did present memorandums of understanding between division and state companies implementing funding choices. The data was additionally submitted to the federal authorities. 

“The essential want for each expediency and responsiveness in administering these funds in order that the state might meet evolving wants each from a public well being and financial perspective lent itself to decision-making that occurred largely by way of near-daily conversations with the Governor’s Workplace and related company companions,” Blumenfeld wrote.

The Republican co-chairs of the legislatures audit committee didn’t reply to requests for remark made by Wisconsin Public Radio Monday. A spokesperson for Gov. Evers’ workplace referred WPR to Blumenfeld’s letter. 

State Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, informed WPR he appears ahead to having a public discussion board on the audit bureau report, however famous the Republican managed Legislature adjourned in April 2020. 

“So, the legislature actually did not do its job by being in session and dealing on a few of these points,” Carpenter mentioned. “Or, even this previous session, that they had the audacity of adjourning on March 8 of this 12 months and never working for the remainder of the time.”

Carpenter mentioned each the Legislature and the administration must work with state companies to make sure federal funds are correctly spent, “as a result of it is at all times simple to be a Monday morning quarterback.”