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The Need For Oversight Over Stimulus Funding Heightens With Reports Of Misuse

Cal Cunningham has warned against the “few strings attached” approach to the COVID-19 stimulus funds, and has repeatedly called for robust transparency and oversight to make sure the historic amount of taxpayer money being spent reaches those who need it most. And we continue to hear reports that support his calls for oversight. 

Multiple reports released this week reveal that the lack of transparency and oversight over COVID-19 stimulus funding has increased mystery around who is benefitting and if this unprecedented amount of taxpayer dollars is ending up in the wrong hands.

  • The New York Times reported that despite receiving billions of dollars in taxpayer funds, top health care companies and providers are laying off or issuing pay cuts to doctors, nurses, and other front-line workers like cafeteria workers, janitors and nursing assistants, while many have continued to pay their top executives millions of dollars.
  • The Washington Post reported this week that two months following the passage of the CARES Act, agencies are struggling to snap into action” to distribute relief funds to support food banks, nursing home compliance standards, and rural broadband programs, as well as funds to help FEMA purchase personal protective equipment for firefighters, and build up medical supplies in the Strategic National Stockpile. 
  • The Guardian reported this week that the Paycheck Protection Program is “ripe for abuse” because of the program’s lack of oversight. The administration is refusing to disclose which companies are getting the money, saying that it’s “proprietary” and “confidential” information, and eleven national news publications are even suing the Small Business Administration for public records. Many small businesses, especially minority-owned businesses, are still waiting to receive funds, while the PPP “sent money to companies that did not critically need financial aid.” Oversight advocates call issues with the program “mind-boggling” and a “shocking lack of transparency.” 

While Thom Tillis is too weak to stand up to the administration as it undermines accountability measures by firing four inspectors general, Cal Cunningham believes in establishing oversight provisions to guard against corruption.

That means both acting with the type of urgency that this moment demands and ensuring that taxpayer money is being used for its intended purpose.

New York Times: Hospitals Got Bailouts and Furloughed Thousands While Paying C.E.O.s Millions

  • The New York Times analyzed tax and securities filings by 60 of the country’s largest hospital chains, which have received a total of more than $15 billion in emergency funds through the economic stimulus package in the federal CARES Act.
  • The hospitals — including publicly traded juggernauts like HCA and Tenet Healthcare, elite nonprofits like the Mayo Clinic, and regional chains with thousands of beds and billions in cash — are collectively sitting on tens of billions of dollars of cash reserves that are supposed to help them weather an unanticipated storm. They awarded their five highest-paid officials about $874 million in the most recent year for which they have disclosed their finances.
  • At least 36 of those hospital chains have laid off, furloughed or reduced the pay of employees as they try to save money during the pandemic.
  • The bailout money, which hospitals received from the Health and Human Services Department without having to apply for it, came with few strings attached.
  • Many large nonprofit hospital chains also pay their senior executives well into the millions of dollars a year.

Washington Post: Food banks and other key programs have received a fraction of allotted coronavirus money, angering some lawmakers

  • More than two months after passage of the $2 trillion Cares Act, funding for some key programs to address the economic devastation from the coronavirus is moving out slowly or not at all. Even after the United States added 2.5 million jobs last month, 20 million people remain out of work and federal bureaucracies charged with processing record sums of money to respond to the crisis are struggling to snap into action.
  • The Cares Act directed $850 million for food banks, but less than $300 million has been sent out so far, according to Democratic staff members on the Senate Appropriations Committee. That’s despite unprecedented demand, with the number of people served at food banks increasing by more than 50 percent from a year ago, according to a recent survey by the nonprofit group Feeding America.
  • Similarly, Congress appropriated $9 billion in March for the Community Development Block Grant and Emergency Solutions Grant programs, which fund health facilities, child care centers, and services for seniors and homeless people, among other things. Only about $250 million of that money has been obligated.
  • A separate $100 million appropriation to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency purchase personal protective equipment for firefighters also hasn’t been spent. Additionally, less than half the $16 billion Congress dedicated over four separate pieces of legislation to bulking up critical medical supplies in the Strategic National Stockpile has been spent, according to the Democrats’ calculations.

The Guardian: The Mystery Of Which US Businesses Are Profiting From The Coronavirus Bailout

  • Businesses have taken at least half a trillion dollars in coronavirus aid from the American public, and the government is refusing to disclose which companies are getting the money.
  • The lack of oversight in the system for US lawmakers’ “paycheck protection program” makes the historic levels of spending ripe for abuse. The media and watchdogs cannot scrutinize the payments to ensure against waste, fraud or favors to political allies.
  • Eleven national news publications are suing for public records, yet little public attention has gone to the problem, as the government has scrambled to respond to a cratered economy and unemployment that has soared past 40m jobless claims. 
  • “It’s absolutely mind-boggling that we’re in a situation where we’re shoveling so much money out to private businesses, and we don’t know where it’s going,” said Kyle Herrig, founder of the watchdog group Accountable.US.