With Americans increasingly putting the COVID pandemic in the rearview mirror, reports are showing how much public funds were wasted on special projects instead of actual relief efforts.
This includes $140 million for a planned 29-story, 800-room hotel in Broward County next to the Atlantic Ocean with an 11,000-square-foot spa. COVID funds also included $6.6 million to fix irrigation systems at two golf courses in Colorado Springs; $5 million to support the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama; $2.5 million to hire new parking enforcement officials in Washington, D.C.; and $2 million for a privately owned ski area in Pottawattamie County, Iowa.
According to a recent report from the Associated Press, funds supposed to be helping Americans deal with COVID went to a host of assorted projects.
In Dutchess County, New York, a local minor league baseball team is slated to get $12 million for to renovate a baseball stadium. In Massachusetts, $5 million went to pay off debts of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute. Rhode Island lawmakers approved using $53,000 to remodel a city hall. Alabama got $400 million to build new prisons.
The AP also reported that tens of millions went into tourism advertising. Puerto Rico will get $70 million, Washington, D.C. $8 million and Tucson, Arizona, $2 million to promote tourism. In Alexandria, Virginia, local officials have said they will spend $120,000 to revamp the city’s tourism website.
These projects are funded by federal coronavirus relief money even if the projects have little to do with combating the pandemic.
The feds approved $350 million more in COVID relief money as part of last year’s “American Rescue Plan” that sent funds to state and local governments in response to the pandemic.
But funds that were supposed to be used for testing, vaccinations, and schools often funded other projects unrelated to the pandemic.
“This is just the beginning of the waste that’s has been spent and there’s no telling what we may find out in the months ahead,” said Adam Andrzejewski, the CEO of Open The Books.
Andrzejewski said the U.S. Treasury Department is supposed to monitor how COVID relief funds can be spent.
Liz Bourgeois, a spokeswoman for the Treasury Department, said last year’s stimulus program was a success.
According to the Treasury Department, state and local governments can use COVID relief money to “recover from financial distress” and “achieve their own strategies for restoring jobs and industries hit by the pandemic.”
“Ultimately local governments are accountable to their communities on their decisions on how best to use their funds,” insisted the Treasury Department.
While some elected officials and watchdog groups oppose this type of spending, the current policies have their defenders.
“Counties should be able to determine what’s best for them and their residents will decide whether (the money) was appropriate or not,” said Mark Ritacco, the director of government affairs for the National Association of Counties.
The AP noted lobbying groups employed by local governments went to Washington to have the spending rules written to give local municipalities flexibility on how to distribute the funds, including how they spend extra money. Some school districts had so much extra COVID funds they used them on new sports stadiums.
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