Federal watchdog investigates whether covid aid enabled migrant flight to Florida

A federal watchdog is investigating whether Florida improperly tapped coronavirus aid to ferry migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, part of a broader government probe into states that spent their pandemic dollars on controversial coronavirus crackdowns. immigration.

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

Federal covid aid allowed Florida to pay for migrant flights

The investigation comes about a month after Florida ferried dozens of migrants, including children, from Texas to Massachusetts in the latest example of a Republican-run state sending migrants 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 the interest Florida had earned on the more than $8 billion it received under the latest federal stimulus package, called the US Bailout, the Washington Post reported as part of its year-long investigation into pandemic relief, known as the Covid Money Trail.

The approach immediately sparked legal debate, not least because the thefts originated in Texas. It also raised new questions about the state of stimulus oversight in Washington, where Congress has given local governments wide latitude to spend their allocations as they see fit. The Treasury Department said even less about how states could use interest earned on the money until it was spent, potentially opening the door for Florida’s maneuver.

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

The Covid Money Trail

It was the biggest burst of emergency spending in US history: two years, six laws and more than $5 trillion intended to break the deadly grip of the coronavirus pandemic. The money has spared America’s economy from ruin and put vaccines in millions of weapons, but it has also invited unprecedented levels of fraud, abuse and opportunism.

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

Read more

The Florida spending survey is just the latest survey targeting federal aid in Republican-led states. The Treasury Department’s top watchdog previously said it would look into whether Texas acted improperly when it used a different budget move to take advantage of federal coronavirus relief funds to ease the costs of the border enforcement, as The Post first reported earlier this year.

In both cases, the investigations involve emergency federal programs intended to give local governments broad flexibility to meet public health and economic needs. Time and time again, however, GOP leaders have poured money into unrelated goals and pet political projects — from building a prison in Atlanta to pursuing tax cuts in Florida and elsewhere — that , at a minimum, violates the spirit of Congressional relief efforts.

How federal pandemic aid helped Texas pay for its border crackdown

In Florida, critics have described the approach as a waste, arguing that federal money might have been better spent improving local education, bolstering 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 thefts as a “political stunt,” which they say “goes to the contrary to the intention of Congress”.

“While the rule was designed to provide flexibility to state and local governments, Congress did not intend to permit or permit state governments to use SLFRF funds for enforcement. immigration laws,” lawmakers wrote in a letter last month to the inspector general asking for the probe. The SLFRF refers to the state and local fiscal stimulus funds, the $350 billion program under the U.S. bailout that gave Florida the money.

The Treasury Department’s chief watchdog responded on Friday, acknowledging in a letter that it was seeking “more detailed analysis” from the agency on its guidance.

“We will review the authorization for the use of SLFRF funds related to immigration generally, and confirm specifically whether interest earned on the SLFRF has been used by Florida related to immigration activities, and if so, under what conditions. and limitations apply to such use,” Richard wrote. K. Delmar, Deputy Inspector General.

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