Audit report calls for more information on how state has spent pandemic relief

By: - December 16, 2022 6:00 am

Illustration by Getty Images

An audit report commissioned by state lawmakers has recommended that the administration of Gov. Tony Evers publish more information about how the state will spend its remaining pandemic relief funds and calls on the Department of Administration (DOA) to document its decision-making process in deciding how to spend the money that has already been allocated. 

The Legislative Audit Bureau report reviewed how the administration has distributed the $5.7 billion that Wisconsin received from three pieces of federal legislation passed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, enacted in March 2020; the Consolidated Appropriations Act enacted in December 2020; and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) enacted in March 2021.

The Department of Administration was in charge of distributing the money, which was spent in several areas, including public health, economic relief and support for business and nonprofits. 

Federal law directed about $1.1 billion of the funds’ allocation, while the remaining $4.5 billion was subject to the administration’s discretion. Under Wisconsin law, the governor has sole control over how much of the money the state receives from the federal government is spent. 

The audit bureau report found that of the total federal outlay, the DOA had spent about $3.7 billion, 60% of that distributed to other state agencies and the rest going to DOA-run programs. As of June 2022 another $1.9 billion remained unspent at DOA, according to the report. The department told auditors that plans for spending most of the remaining money have been made.

The auditors asked DOA for information on how the administration made its funding choices, including agendas and minutes of meetings at which those decisions were discussed and other internal documents. The department didn’t provide those, the report states. 

The audit recommends that DOA post more detailed plans on the department’s pandemic relief website by Feb. 17, 2023, on how the $1.9 billion that was unspent as of June will be allocated. It also recommends that the department deliver more documentation on the administration’s past funding decisions to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee by the same date.  

In a response included with the report, DOA Secretary Kathy Blumenfeld wrote that the department gave auditors memos between the department and other state agencies and other information “regarding the policy underpinnings and needs for programs and investments the Governor chose to fund — information that would have been relied upon in making such decisions.” 

She said the department would update the audit committee on its documentation and provide more information on the DOA website for the pandemic relief funds by Feb. 17.

In a statement the audit committee’s co-chairs, Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) and Rep. John Macco (R-Ledgeview), referred to Republican lawmakers’ unsuccessful attempts to gain a voice in how the pandemic money was spent and later to redirect some of that spending. 

After Evers killed a bill in 2021 that would have given lawmakers veto power over the administration’s ARPA spending, GOP lawmakers proposed setting aside $1 billion in ARPA funds for a tax rebate to property owners — a proposal that critics said would have been skewed toward the wealthy. Evers vetoed that and all subsequent proposals that reached his desk directing how the money would be used. 

Outside analysts have found that Wisconsin’s allocation of pandemic relief money has heavily gone to small businesses, especially those hardest hit by the pandemic. 


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary.