The state auditor is advising Iowa’s governor to return millions in federal pandemic relief money spent on new computer software.
Last year, the State of Iowa signed a contract to upgrade some of the state’s aging computer systems. This year, Governor Kim Reynolds authorized spending $21 million of federal coronavirus relief money on the software, arguing state employees would use it to schedule time off if they got Covid or had to care for a family member who got the virus.
State Auditor Rob Sand said the CARES Act money must be used on expenses directly related to the pandemic.
:The simple fact of the matter is that this money is to mitigate the pandemic and respond to the pandemic,” Sand said, “and a new computer system for the State of Iowa ain’t that.”
Plus, Sand said state officials signed off on the software purchase in 2019, long before the pandemic.
“A new computer system for the State of Iowa that was already planned prior to the pandemic and for which contracts had already been signed prior to the pandemic is not pandemic related,” Sand told Radio Iowa.
Sand said the inspector general in the U.S. Treasury Department has come to the same conclusion. Sand also is advising that Reynolds her decision to use federal pandemic relief money to pay the salaries of some staff in the governor’s office is “questionable.”
“There are certain people’s salaries that would obviously qualify. If the State of Iowa, for example, were to add more staff at the State Hygienic Lab that process many coronavirus tests, their salaries, without question, would qualify,” Sand said. “The problem is with these indirect, supporting staff salaries, we’re getting into a gray area where you’re going to need to have documentation.”
Reynolds used about $450,000 to pay the salaries of her staff this spring. Sand said according to the guidelines, federal relief funds can only be used to cover salaries for employees whose duties are substantially dedicated to pandemic response. Sand said if the governor acts now, the money can be deployed to other uses.
“Instead put it into things like expanding testing or hiring more staff for the Hygienic Lab to process tests or more contract tracing,” Sand said.
Iowa received $1.2 billion from the federal government for pandemic expenses, but the money must be spent and accounted for in this calendar year.
“What we have done here is work to get this information, this judgement made as soon as possible to give the governor’s office the opportunity to adjust the way they’re spending it,” Sand said.
He said otherwise money from Iowa taxpayers may have to be used repay the federal government. The governor’s spokesperson has not yet responded to Sand’s report.