U.S. Treasury Department officials are reviewing what happened to more than $1 billion in federal COVID relief funds for Texas, with a focus on whether that money was misspent, according to reporting from The Washington Post.
According to a Post analysis, the pandemic relief money was actually used for Operation Lone Star, Gov. Greg Abbott’s border security mission. Texas officials transferred money meant for state agencies to the operation on the border, and then used the federal relief money to replace what they’d taken out.
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Early on in the pandemic, the federal government approved $6 trillion in stimulus relief, with states being allotted $500 million for response to the public health crisis caused by the pandemic. It’s an open question as to whether the state’s maneuvering of those COVID relief funds was allowed, says Tony Romm, congressional economic policy reporter at The Washington Post.
“There was the hope in many cases that they would put it towards pandemic response and other things that could help their citizens,” Romm said. “But in some cases, the funds didn’t have too many strings attached.
“The issue of whether that was allowed is one that the inspector general for the Treasury Department, the agency that oversees that money, is starting to look into, as we reported just last night.”
But how, exactly, will the Treasury Department determine whether Texas officials broke the rules? Romm said the inspector general will be asking the questions: “In transferring that money, did the state use federal funds appropriately when they said that they were using federal funds for the salaries of staff members and its health and safety agency, for example? Did that indeed occur? And was it within at least the spirit of the law that Texas had backfilled its budget in this way?
“Now, in talking to some of the folks here in Washington, a lot of them believe that what Texas did may have been inappropriate or improper, but maybe not necessarily illegal,” he said. “Nothing [in the CARES Act] said you couldn’t play with your budgets to make maximum use of that very generous federal aid.”
The Treasury Department does have the ability to call back funds if it finds wrongdoing by Texas, Romm said. But the state has defended its approach, saying it’s been acting within the confines of the law.
“Largely, Abbott’s folks have been quite critical in response to this, saying that the White House and the Congress should be doing more to address border security issues,” Romm said.