Put money into state oversight of relief funding

With multiple needs — including transportation infrastructure, affordable housing, education and public health — many state residents must be wondering why some of that roughly $5 billion in American Rescue Plan Act money hasn’t been put to work.

But on Beacon Hill, the normally spendthrift Legislature has been preaching patience when it comes to divvying up all that cash.


Senate President Karen Spilka has promised that state lawmakers “will get it done” on spending the nearly $5 billion in unused federal pandemic relief funds the state’s been sitting on since May.

“I believe history will be judged not on how fast we spend the money but on how wise and efficiently we spend it,” the Ashland Democrat said during a Sunday appearance on WCVB-TV’s “On the Record.”

Lawmakers have been weighing what to do with about $4.9 billion in remaining local aid, courtesy of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief act.

“We are trying to figure out the best way to spend significant amounts of money — to have a bold and transformative approach,” Spilka explained.

Rather than allow Republican Gov. Charlie Baker to spend the money, the Democrat-led state Legislature assumed control of the funds and initiated a months-long process with six public hearings to help develop a spending plan.

And the timetable for dispensing with this windfall plays right into legislators’ strengths — procrastination. States have until 2024 to allocate the cash and till the end of 2026 to spend it.

Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano, D-Quincy, have said they “hope” to have a bill out to spend “some” of the ARPA funds on immediate priorities by Thanksgiving.

If a bill doesn’t materialize by then, it will delay the spending plan until 2022, when lawmakers return from their scheduled hiatus in the new year.

We hope the product of these exhaustive spending deliberations includes the watchdog element brought forth by outgoing State Auditor Suzanne Bump.

She and Inspector General Glenn Cunha recently advised lawmakers to set aside some ARPA money into a reserve account to fund audits, investigations and other oversight activities to ensure there’s no pork included in the allocation of that nearly $5 billion.

“The urgency of getting relief dollars into the hands of state and local governments, businesses and individuals necessitated the lowering of some of the normal barriers that regulate eligibility for government contracting and relief programs. Through these openings flooded identity thieves and fraudsters,” Bump told Ways and Means Committee members holding their final planned hearing on how to spend ARPA aid.

Bump said her office can’t devote staff exclusively to auditing pandemic-relief programs, “despite the high level of risk associated with these programs,” because there’s no funding specifically available for that purpose.

This envisioned pool of cash would also be accessible by the attorney general and state comptroller for pandemic relief oversight.

“The reserve fund that we’re proposing is modeled on what the Legislature created for addressing the Hinton Lab drug testing scandal,” said Bump, in reference to state chemist Annie Dookhan’s admission of tampering with drug evidence over several years at the Jamaica Plain facility.

“We believe it to be a workable model that would support our efforts in the current situation,” Bump said.

It’s possible Massachusetts will never see a federal lump sum of this magnitude again, which makes it imperative that this funding goes to where it’s needed most — and not for someone’s pet project.

An oversight account would allow the appropriate state entities to identify and preempt any such malfeasance.

(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)




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