Federal watchdog investigates whether covid aid allowed Florida migrant flight

A federal watchdog is investigating whether Florida misused coronavirus aid to bring migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, as part of a widening government probe into states spending their pandemic dollars on controversial immigration crackdowns. .

The Treasury Department’s inspector general confirmed his new interest in a letter sent last week to Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and other members of Congress who had expressed concern that the spending approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) “violates federal law.”

Federal covid aid allowed Florida to pay for migrant flights

The investigation comes about a month after Florida moved dozens of immigrants, including children, from Texas to Massachusetts, in the latest example of a Republican-led state sending immigrants to Democratic-leaning communities.

To pay for the flights, DeSantis said he would tap into a $12 million fund in the recent state budget. But that money came from interest Florida had earned on the more than $8 billion it received under the latest federal stimulus package, called the American Bailout, The Washington Post reported as part of its year-long investigation into pandemic aid. known as the Covid money trail.

The approach immediately sparked a legal debate, especially since the flights originated in Texas. It also raised new questions about the state of stimulus oversight in Washington, where Congress gave local governments wide latitude to spend their appropriations as they saw fit. The Treasury Department said even less about how states could use the interest earned on the money while it was unspent, which could open the door for Florida maneuvering.

When asked about the investigation, the White House referred the matter to the Treasury Department, which declined to comment. His inspector general confirmed the letter but otherwise declined to comment. DeSantis spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Covid Money Trail

It was the largest burst of emergency spending in US history: two years, six pieces of legislation and more than $5 trillion aimed at breaking the deadly grip of the coronavirus pandemic. The money prevented the ruin of the American economy and put vaccines in millions of arms, but it also invited unprecedented levels of fraud, abuse and opportunism.

In a year-long investigation, The Washington Post is following the Covid money trail to find out what happened to all that money.

read more

The Florida spending investigation is just the latest on federal aid in Republican-led states. The main watchdog of the Treasury Department previously announced would review whether Texas acted improperly when it used a different budget move to take advantage of federal coronavirus relief funds to ease the costs of border enforcement, as The Post first reported earlier this year.

In both cases, the investigations involve federal emergency programs that were intended to give local governments great flexibility in responding to public health and economic needs. However, Republican leaders have repeatedly spent the money for unrelated purposes and political pet projects — from building a prison in Atlanta to looking for tax cuts in florida and elsewhere, that, at a minimum, violate the spirit of Congress’s relief efforts.

How federal pandemic aid helped Texas pay for border crackdowns

In Florida, critics have described the approach as wasteful, arguing that federal money could have been better spent on improving local education, boosting hospitals or helping low-income residents. In Massachusetts, where Florida sent the migrants, Markey and other Democratic lawmakers, including Reps. Seth Moulton and Ayanna Pressley, described the flights as a “political stunt,” which they said “runs counter to the intent of Congress.”

“While the rule was designed to provide flexibility for state and local governments, Congress did not intend to allow or authorize state governments to use SLFRF funds for immigration enforcement,” the lawmakers wrote. in a letter last month to the inspector general requesting the investigation. SLFRF refers to the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, the $350 billion program under the American Rescue Plan that awarded Florida the money in question.

The Treasury Department’s top watchdog responded Friday, acknowledging in a letter that it is seeking “further analysis” from the agency on its guidelines.

“We will review the permissibility of immigration-related use of SLFRF funds in general, and specifically confirm whether Florida used interest earned on SLFRF in connection with immigration activities and, if so, what conditions and limitations apply to such use.” Richard wrote. K. Delmar, the deputy inspector general.

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