Alarm Grows Over Billions in COVID Cash Diverted to Pork-Barrel Projects

Several lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have spoken out about how the COVID-19 funds allocated from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan were used.

Rather than fund relief programs, many states across the U.S. used the federal money to fund pet projects. The monies, totaling around $350 billion, were earmarked to assist struggling states and localities through the pandemic.

Instead, lawmakers accuse some states of using hundreds of millions of dollars in coronavirus relief money for other purposes.

For example, Broward County, Florida, spent $140 million in tax dollars on a new, luxury 29-story hotel overlooking the Atlantic, with an 11,000-foot spa and 800 rooms.

Officials from Broward County defended its use of the funds to build the hotel, which will be owned by the county but run by a private hotel management group.

Officials from the county diverted the cash from the hotel project, placing it in the county’s general fund to offset losses in tax revenue, a federally approved use of the money. However, the money was then transferred back to the hotel project from the general fund.

“No federal funds will be used to pay any of the cost of developing the hotel project,” said county Administrator Monica Cepero. “The County has reviewed the Treasury guidance and modified its use of [the] funds.”

In Massachusetts, $5 million in federal funds was used to pay off the debts of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate. Tax filings from the Institute indicate it was operating in the red between 2015 and 2019, by about $27 million.

Likewise, Dutchess County, New York used $12 million in federal funds to renovate a minor league team’s stadium affiliated with the New York Yankees.

County officials backed the use of the money, saying it was “completely and absolutely consistent” with how Congress instructed them to spend the funds.

“It’s ironic that this criticism emanates from the same congressional members who have brought back pork-barrel earmarks,” said Marcus Molinaro, Dutchess County Executive.

Other states have also undertaken pet projects using taxpayer dollars.

This includes $2 million Pottawattamie County, Iowa, to buy a privately owned ski area; $400 million to create new prisons in Alabama; $6.6 million to replace two Colorado Springs golf course irrigation systems; and a combined $80 million for tourism marketing campaigns for Tucson, Arizona, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C.

Criticism mounts

“For months, Republicans warned Americans about the inflationary consequences of the Democrats’ mammoth spending,” said Rep. Greg Murphy, R-N.C., GOP Doctors Caucus vice-chair, and practicing physician.

“This AP report confirms what we already knew: The so-called American Rescue Plan was a $2 trillion sham that wasted billions in taxpayer dollars and directly contributed to Biden’s current economic crisis.”

“Just nuts” and “outrageous” is how Representative Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., described the expenditures, which she said were a clear affront to responsible government.

“Our hospitals were overwhelmed because of the pandemic, and somebody now has a hotel somewhere?” she said.

Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said the localities and states “need to give us an accounting.”

“Show us how you’ve already spent the money Congress gave you. It’s hard to imagine how a four-star hotel is helping to solve the pain of COVID.”

Romney also emphasized that the “amount of money that went out was so massive and so far beyond anything that has ever been spent in our country before, that our capacity to audit every dollar spent is in our country before, that our capacity to audit every other dollar spent is clearly stretched.”

Representative Ralph Norman, R-S.C., is a staunch opponent of earmarks.

Norman refers to earmarks as the “giveaway program,” warning that earmarks are the “cocaine of this generation” of lawmakers.

“I mean, the whole thing is an abomination to this country. To spend $1.5 trillion, which is a 16% increase of the total of last year’s budget, and go further in debt. You can pick out any number of these earmarks — with no offsets? It continues to amaze me.”

“We’re on a path that bankrupts this country. And for the Republicans, who are supposed to be the party of conservatism, to do this is completely shocking to me. And we don’t know the half of it because nobody has read the thing,” said Norman.