Sun, Jan 2, 2022 2:39 PM
By Merrilee Gasser | The Center Square contributor, The Center Square
(The Center Square) – Hawaiian officials could be more transparent about how federal COVID-19 relief is being spent, according to a report from the nonpartisan Good Jobs First.
The nonprofit analyzed how states were tracking Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) spending and providing information to the public.
CRF relief was provided to states through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was signed into law in March 2020 by President Donald Trump. The $2.2 trillion package allotted $111.8 billion for emergency assistance to state governments and the District of Columbia.
The report said only six states were fully transparent with their spending. Hawaii was listed as a state with “some disclosure.”
Of the eight criteria analyzed to determine how well states disclosed their spending to taxpayers, Hawaii met three: a website dedicated to CARES Act spending, it is easily accessible and the site lists expenditure categories for fund recipients.
Hawaii’s website falls short of breaking down what money was spent on beyond the vague spending category descriptions, which leave a lot of gray area, the report’s authors wrote. It also doesn’t do an adequate job of explaining how much money it spent on educational and health care entities, according to the report.
“As we’ve documented, most states are doing a middling to poor job of disclosing their uses of CARES Act CRF funds,” the report’s authors said. “Fortunately, they now have a second chance to improve their performance: The American Rescue Plan Act has the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund Program (CSLFRF), which at $350 billion, is far larger than CRF, its CARES Act counterpart.”
The report highlighted several ways it believes states could increase transparency with taxpayers, including requiring states to make their quarterly reports on CARES Act spending public. States already are required to send the reports to the U.S. Treasury Department. It also recommended requiring all states to track their COVID-19 spending on a website where residents can see exactly where money is going.
“The CARES Act intentionally gave state leaders wide flexibility for how the money was spent, to target the specific needs of their residents,” the report’s authors said. “How and on what they spent the money is crucial to letting the public determine whether it was put to good use.”
Eight states and the District of Columbia don’t have websites at all. States that were found doing the best at disclosing their CARES Act spending were Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan and Wyoming.