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Auditor concludes Gov. Reynolds has failed to justify almost $450,000 in pandemic relief spent on staff pay


Gov. Kim Reynolds gives the official Republican response to President Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, March 1, 2022. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

Just hours before Gov. Kim Reynolds boasted about her handling of the pandemic (“we honored your freedoms”) in the Republican response to the State of the Union address on Tuesday, Iowa Auditor Rob Sand published a report that reiterated his finding from last October that the governor had misappropriated almost $450,000 in federal pandemic relief funds to cover the salaries and benefits of 21 employees in her office.

Sand repeated his recommendation that the governor’s office return the $448,448.86 of CARES Act funds spent on office staff in 2020 to the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), noting that recommendation was “consistent with” recommendations from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).

The auditor’s office had been requesting documentation from the governor’s office that supported its decision to use CARES Act funds for salaries and benefits since October 2020, but didn’t receive any until Dec. 10, 2021, After reviewing the “159-page packet of information” regarding the use of CARES Act dollars to pay for staff costs from March through June 2020, “the conclusions reached for the finding in the State of Iowa’s Single Audit remain the same, the funding should be returned,” Sand wrote in the cover letter of the report published Tuesday.

The governor’s office has not responded to the auditor’s report or questions from the media about it. When the auditor’s office issued its report in October 2021, the governor’s office did respond with a written statement that said: “During this time, the Governor’s staff spent a vast majority of their time responding to the pandemic. In fact, many members of Gov. Reynolds’ staff worked seven days a week out of the State Emergency Operation Center to provide direct support to Iowans. This has always been our justification for the expense.”

It’s not the first time the auditor and the governor have disagreed over her use of federal pandemic aid.

In the same October 2020 letter in which Sand raised the issue of the salaries, he advised the Reynolds administration $21 million in CARES Act funds had been misappropriated by the governor, who had designated that money to make payments on a computer system upgrade Reynolds signed a contract for months before COVID-19 was first identified in December 2019. The governor rejected Sand’s conclusion, and claimed payments on the computer system were allowed under federal regulations. The Treasury Department’s OIG agreed with Sand, and in December 2020, Reynolds had to return the $21 million to Iowa’s CRF.

Although it remains unclear what the governor will do about the auditor’s findings, the trend lines regarding virus activity in the state are clear, and continue to improve.

In its update on Wednesday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported 2,503 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 during the previous seven days. IDPH also added another 4,306 cases of COVID-19 to the state’s cumulative total of 754,511. IDPH did not explain the source of those cases, but they are likely part of the 6,700 previously unreported cases the department discovered when it decommissioned the state’s COVID-19 information site on Feb. 15.

After the state eliminated its COVID information site, IDPH began hosting some virus data on its own site, but it no longer reports information such as COVID-19 hospitalizations. A coalition of Iowa newspapers launched Iowacoviddata.com last week. According to that site, there were 338 COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals in Iowa during the seven-day period that ended Tuesday.

In light of the improving COVID-19 statistics and new guidance from the CDC, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Thursday to lift the requirement that masks be worn in county buildings. The supervisors did note that the requirement may be reinstated if there is a substantial increase in virus activity in the future. Iowa City lifted its mask mandate on March 1.

In its Wednesday update, IDPH disclosed another 86 deaths from the virus, increasing the state’s official COVID-19 death toll to 9,171. This was the first update that reported fewer than 100 deaths since Dec. 29.


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