Iowa GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds accused of misusing COVID relief funds — again

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The state's auditor found Kim Reynolds improperly used federal money to pay staff salaries.

Iowa's state auditor, Democrat Rob Sand, released a report on Monday that finds the office of Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds improperly used $448,449 in coronavirus pandemic relief funds to pay her staff's salaries.

The annual review of the state's spending for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2020, makes note of requirements for the use of federal COVID relief funding:

According to the Federal Register Volume 86, number 10, dated January 15, 2021, the Cares Act provides that payments from the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) may only be used to cover costs that are:

• necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19);

• costs that were not accounted for in the State’s budget that was approved at the time of the enactment of the CARES Act; and

• costs that were incurred during the period between March 1, 2020, and December 31, 2021.

The auditor's review of the state's financial records shows:

The Office of the Governor used $448,448.86 of the CRF [Covid Relief Fund] to reimburse the salaries and benefits of twenty-one Office of the Governor employees for the period March 15, 2020 through June 30, 2020. The reimbursement was in the form of an internal transfer from the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (IHSEM), from their allocation of administration funds from the State's CRF. The $448,448.86 reimbursement represents 62.59% of the total salaries/benefits of the twenty-one employees for the period.

It says that "twenty of the twenty-one employees included in the above calculations were Governor employees prior to the pandemic and each employee earned and was paid only their approved bi-weekly salary (their approved bi-weekly salary agrees to their gross pay), approved and expected prior to any knowledge of a Pandemic.

"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," the audit notes. "Based on this information, we conclude that the budget shortfall was not a result of the Pandemic."

Reynolds told reporters in September that the expenditures were "allowable" because her staff's roles had changed significantly due to the virus.

A spokesperson for Reynolds told the Associated Press her team "spent a vast majority of their time responding to the pandemic" and that many "worked seven days a week out of the State Emergency Operation Center to provide direct support to Iowans." The spokesperson promised to provide documentation to back that up.

But Sand noted that the governor had not produced any such evidence when repeatedly asked to do so during the audit. "If you're coming up with documentation after the fact after you've said twice you don't have it, that should be concerning too," he said.

Sand's 2020 audit found that Reynolds had improperly used $21 million in CARES Act funding intended for pandemic relief to pay for a computer software system the state had planned to buy before COVID-19 hit. In December, the state had to return those funds to the federal government.

Despite her claims, Reynolds did little to curb the coronavirus' spread and actively made her lack of response to the COVID-19 pandemic a political selling point.

She was one of just a handful of governors who refused to issue a statewide stay-at-home order even in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak.

In May 2020, she was one of five Republican governors who published a Washington Post opinion piece titled "Our states stayed open in the covid-19 pandemic. Here's why our approach worked."

She demanded Iowans return to work long before there was an approved vaccine against the coronavirus, before it was clear how to work in person safely.

She refused for months to issue a face mask requirement even as her state was leading the nation in new coronavirus cases. When she finally instituted a mask mandate in November 2020, she included a loophole regarding when and where the mandate would be enforced that would allow almost anyone to ignore it.

In September of this year, Reynolds refused to recommend mask use in schools; she has sought to prohibit local school districts from requiring face masks.

Last month, she signed a bill prohibiting vaccine mandates in Iowa and providing special benefits for those who lose their jobs because they refuse to follow workplace pandemic safety requirements.

Iowa now ranks in the top 20 nationally for the most cases per capita since the start of the pandemic. More than 7,000 Iowans have died of COVID-19-related causes.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.