Oversight necessary to avoid wasteful COVID-19 spending

Danielle Brian

In the midst of a pandemic, one that is threatening the lives of all Americans, helping constituents is top of mind for every public official—and rightfully so. Whether a natural disaster, like a hurricane or tornado, or a global health pandemic, like the one we now face, it is times like these when people rely on government the most. And as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout Florida and the country, people are still forced to be home, workers are still losing their jobs, our entire health care system remains strained, and small, local businesses are hanging on by a thread.

With our country on the brink of a recession and Americans everywhere at risk of the impacts of COVID-19, whether to their health or their livelihood, government support is more important than ever.

The response by many of our leaders during this unforeseen time has certainly been admirable. With intentions to help curb the immense economic fallout from COVID-19, Congress and the White House overwhelmingly passed $2.9 trillion in emergency relief.

Few would question whether this funding is necessary—of course it is. Our health care institutions need help securing things like personal protective equipment and medications to care for patients; our small business owners, the backbone of our economy, need payroll support to preserve jobs; Americans out of work need help putting food on the table and maintaining a roof over their heads; and, local governments need assistance navigating the effects of the virus within their communities.

However, as a nation, we need checks and balances on these funds from the public and other oversight bodies to ensure the money is going to the people who truly need it. Sadly, it’s becoming abundantly clear that this money is not being afforded to the intended beneficiaries. Instead, wealthy institutions and individuals are cashing in on preexisting relationships, and they were first in line to capitalize on COVID-19 relief.   

We only know this to be true because of hard-fought efforts to get the government to disclose the larger Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Because the White House continues to resist disclosing additional information, it’s hard to tell where the rest of the funding is going.

In fact, a new POGO COVID-19 Relief Spending Tracker shows that roughly half of the emergency funds are accounted for, with the government spending at least $22 billion on COVID-19-related contracts and $1.5 trillion in assistance to individuals and organizations to help weather the storm. Still, there is $1.4 trillion that has not been disclosed. 

Unfortunately, without the proper oversight and transparency, there is inevitable corruption and waste. Such behavior has devastating impacts on the livelihoods of millions of Americans, including shutting businesses down for good and leading to increased unemployment and less access to public health services.

With little indication of when the pandemic will end, our government needs to do to better—for all of us. We need more stringent oversight on the remaining $130 billion left in the PPP to make sure the small businesses who need the funds are getting them. We must also urge our lawmakers to be more transparent about how they are tracking loans and who is receiving them. It is our money, after all.

COVID-19 has led to unprecedented challenges as a nation, and no one expected our response to be perfect. But, our government should strive to more effectively allocate funds to help as many people in Florida and across the country as possible—and keeping us updated along the way.

Ms. Brian is Executive Director of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO).

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