Iowa GOP governor misused federal COVID funds to pay salaries: audit

Iowa GOP governor misused federal COVID funds to pay salaries: audit
Governor Kim Reynolds speaks at the Iowa Capitol moments after becoming the state’s 43rd governor of the state. 5/24/2017 Photo by John Pemble https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

An Iowa audit report released on Monday has led to accusations of improper use of COVID government funding.

According to The Associated Press, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) has been accused of "using nearly $450,000 in federal coronavirus relief funds to pay salaries for 21 staff members for three months last year and concealing the spending by passing it through the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management."

The questionable expenditures were uncovered by State Auditor Rob Sand following a review of the governor's office payroll from last year. In the report, he also raised questions about why the funds were used and not included in the governor's fiscal budget.

"What is not clear, is why these salaries were not included in the governor's budget set prior to the fiscal year and prior to the pandemic," he said in the audit report. "Based on this information, we conclude that the budget shortfall was not a result of the pandemic."

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Sand has also revealed that he penned a letter to Reynolds' office back in October to warn her about paying the salaries with federal funding, but his concerns were reportedly ignored.

Per AP News:

"Sand said he requested information from the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and was initially provided a spreadsheet listing the governor's employees with a section labeled FY 2020 Shortfall and the amount of $448,448.86. A subsequent version was sent to him in which the section title was amended to COVID-19 Personnel Costs with the same amount of money."

Speaking to AP News, Sand suggested "the attempt by Reynolds' administration to conceal the use of the federal money was to fill a salary gap."

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"That spreadsheet that shows they changed the headers to basically instead of say shortfall to say COVID 19 is a pretty big deal," he said.

In response to the latest reports, Reynolds' office has released a statement to address the situation. Alex Murphy, a spokesman for the governor's office, insists the U.S. Treasury Department allowed for federal COVID funding to be used as a form of salary reimbursement for governors.

"During this time, the Governor's staff spent a vast majority of their time responding to the pandemic. In fact, many members of Gov. Reynolds' staff worked seven days a week out of the State Emergency Operation Center to provide direct support to Iowans," the statement said. "This has always been our justification for the expense. We are now working with Treasury to provide them documentation, per their request."

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