Second panel of legislators is starting to dig into South Dakota’s COVID-19 spending

Capitol News Bureau
KELO money 100 dollar bills

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee received a new report Thursday showing how the governor’s administration has used South Dakota’s share of federal COVID-19 aid through June 30, as well as the names of vendors that received money from it.

Bob Christianson, an official from the state Department of Legislative Audit, said some of the spending isn’t reported on the state government’s accounting system, such as the additional unemployment-insurance benefits that have been paid.

Meanwhile not much money has gone to municipalities and counties so far, Christianson said.

Representative Steven Haugaard, a Sioux Falls Republican, said he recently attended a county commission meeting where the discussion was on qualifying as many costs as possible as responses to COVID-19. “It sounded to me like they were over-reaching,” Haugaard said.

The final decision on what is a COVID-19 expense is up to the state Bureau of Finance and Management. The agency answers to Governor Kristi Noem. Christianson said there would be a state audit afterward.

“There’s not a whole lot of rules and regulations on the coronavirus relief fund,” Christianson told the committee. He said that is a concern for government auditors.

“You knew it was going to be an administrative nightmare,” Haugaard said, noting the federal legislation passed by Congress was more than 800 pages. Christianson agreed the situation could be abused by governments that submit claims for reimbursements.

“It’s going to be interesting – and maybe not a whole lot of fun for the auditors,” Christianson said.

Senator Susan Wismer, a Britton Democrat, noted that the report showed the state Department of Public Safety received about the amount of COVID-19 funding as the amount that had been reverted to the state reserves after state government’s budget year ended June 30.

The COVID-19 report also showed the state Department of Tourism received about $3.4 million for contractual services. If that’s the administration’s policy, Wismer said, there would be difficulty turning down similar claims from municipalities and counties.

“One of the big things is going to be ‘consistent’ across the board,” Wismer said.

Liza Clark, the governor’s commissioner of finance, made an unscheduled appearance at that point. Clark said there was “confusion” among legislators.

According to Clark, the governor’s administration has federal guidance that salaries for all public safety and public health officials were automatically covered. She said the question was whether others such as court-service officers and jailers were covered too.

Clark and others from her office had met Wednesday with the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, which is also tracking where federal COVID-19 funds have been flowing. More than a quarter of the 105 senators and representatives are directly involved in following the money.

Clark said Thursday that the time she and her BFM staff spend on COVID-19 issues were eligible for reimbursement. As for the Department of Tourism, she said any tourism advertising that promotes safety is an eligible expense too.

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