While there’s no doubt that the economy is taking a major hit as a result of COVID-19 and that relief is needed – especially for individuals and small businesses who, through no fault of their own, are experiencing sudden upheaval in their financial and situations – don’t be naïve in thinking that those who favor increasing the cost, scope and dependence on government without a pandemic don’t stand ready to take full advantage of the current chaos and uncertainty to advance their ideology.
One way to neutralize their ability to use the current slowdown to advance their big-government agenda is to shine the bright light of transparency on how huge dollars being handed out by Washington to the states gets spent and forcing policymakers to justify their decisions.
Even a small state like Kentucky is looking at receiving a huge sum of $2.4 billion in COVID-19 relief funds from Washington, which is in addition to the spending in the federal CARES Act package going directly to Kentuckians for enhanced unemployment benefits, payments to individual taxpayers and small business loans.
Broken down, that $2.4 billion in spending includes:
- $1.6 billion just to help fund Frankfort’s COVID-19 response.
- $134 million to assist Louisville Metro government in dealing with the pandemic in one of the nation’s larger rural areas.
- $370 million to assist Kentucky’s K-12 education system and colleges and universities offset the cost of transitioning from classrooms closed for weeks now to online learning.
- $165 million from the Education Stabilization funds will be used to help universities, with an additional $42 million that can be awarded at Gov. Andy Beshear’s discretion for schools and universities severely affected by the pandemic.
- $133 million in transit infrastructure grants for public transportation.
- $67 million in Child Care and Development Block Grants to provide child care during the shutdown for the families of Kentucky’s essential workers.
- $26 million in U.S. Housing and Urban Development Emergency Solution grants to protect the homeless or those at risk of homelessness.
- $18 million to help low-income Kentuckians pay their heating and cooling bills.
- $10 million in grants to provide additional support for state and local law enforcement.
- $8 million in U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Grants to help agencies pay for lab testing “and other public health activities” to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
- $6 million in Election Security Grants, to help Kentucky pay for virus-related challenges to the 2020 elections.
While the money is broken down by general categories, the possibilities are ripe for wasteful spending on items outside the stated scope of the designation for which Congress approved. This makes transparency more important than ever.
Taxpayers deserve to know:
- whether the $1.6 billion designated to aid Kentucky in dealing with COVID-19 actually gets spent on filling gaps caused directly by the pandemic and not on bailing out the commonwealth’s ailing public-pension system which has been plagued by the virus of unaffordable benefits much longer than COVID-19 has swirled about.
- what criteria the governor’s office will use to determine which schools and universities receive funding from the $42 million in discretionary education stabilization funds it controls.
Taxpayers need assurance that Beshear isn’t using these funds just to reward his political friends in the public-education system, who were a big political force in his narrow gubernatorial victory, are defenders of the status quo and its mediocrity, and who largely oppose education reform, including allowing parents to choose the school that best fits the needs of their children. Transparency isn’t only knowing how many dollars are getting spent and on what programs, but also the criteria by which spending decisions are made.
Regarding dollars to help universities and colleges, full transparency will be required to ensure that funding designed to help individual college students – many of whom are in the lower-income population and were left without homes and forced to quickly leave their friends and normal lives behind – actually reaches those students.
Universities must not be allowed to direct these dollars toward departments which were struggling before the attack of the virus or dump in athletic programs which are always looking for more money. Instead, the money must go directly to struggling students.
- the criteria for connecting Kentucky’s homeless or those potentially homeless with the $26 million set aside to help this population.
This money can be used for everything from additional staff to vouchers for hotel rooms if shelters are full. Will these expenditures continue post-virus or are they limited to simply dealing with the crisis?
- how U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grants are used.
According to the Lexington Herald-Leader reporting on the COVID-19 spending, CDC grants can be used for “patient surveillance and other public health activities to stop the spread of the coronavirus.”
Talk about an area ripe for abuse! Will dollars be used to “spy” on patients or perhaps the public at large? What do “other public health activities” cover? More transparency in this area can go beyond keeping taxpayers’ dollars from being wasted; it can also protect individuals from unwarranted and unconstitutional surveillance.
Gov. Beshear and his administration must be transparent with how state and federal taxpayer dollars get spent during this funding ramp-up for the virus. The legislature also must accept its check-and-balance role in holding the executive branch accountable and prepare to investigate any questionable spending when it reconvenes. It’s the legislature that’s ultimately – and constitutionally – responsible for how tax dollars get spent within the borders of our commonwealth.