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Auditor General Finds Fraud In State’s Use Of COVID-19 Funds As Billions Still Available To Spend

November 2, 2021

By Terri Jo Neff |

Nearly $75 billion in federal COVID-19 funds was allocated to the State of Arizona, its local governments, businesses, and individuals between March 2020 and October 2021. Of that, more than $4.4 billion went to improper unemployment insurance claims because anti-fraud measures were not utilized by a state agency, according to a special report issued by the Arizona Auditor General. 

The questionable payments by the Arizona Department of Economic Security were from federal funds provided through the CARES Act, one of six Congressional acts and one Presidential memorandum that resulted in $74.9 billion being allocated within Arizona for response and recovery efforts stemming from the pandemic.

For purposes of the special report, the term allocated refers only to funds set aside, not necessarily spent.

The payment of fraudulent claims from the federal COVID-19 funding is not the only concern raised by the Auditor General. Another is the potential future adverse impact caused by the fact the Arizona Department of Administration was 29 days late in submitting a required audit report to a federal audit clearinghouse.

“The late report submission was primarily because State agencies experienced personnel and resource challenges throughout the year responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, including administering the COVID-19 federal program monies and navigating their new requirements,” the report noted.

Federal agencies, the report notes, could “potentially” take action against the State and its three universities due to the late reporting.

The Auditor General’s report also highlights how the overall $74.9 million is split between $43.8 billion available directly to individuals, businesses, local governments, and other non-State programs while $31.1 billion in funds is allocated to the State of Arizona and its agencies.

Of the $43.8 billion in federal COVID-19 funding available directly to individuals, businesses, and local governments, a huge hunk ($18.3 billion) was allocated for individual and family assistance. Almost 95 percent of that has already been distributed in the form of various stimulus payments to individuals.

Another $18 billion is earmarked for business aid, most of which was paid out through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster loans.  The remaining $7.5 billion that was already allocated went to things like public health, transportation, and education (for a combined $4.3 billion) and $3.2 billion to local governments for varied purposes, including COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

The Auditor General’s report also took a close look at $6.3 billion spent or distributed from the State’s allocation between March 1, 2020 and June 30, 2020, the end of Fiscal Year 2020.

“We audited these monies as part of the annual compliance audit of federal monies the State spent and distributed, which we performed in accordance with State law and federal regulations, and in conjunction with our audit of the State’s financial statements,” according to the report, which noted the $6.3 billion was a small part of the overall $26.4 billion of various federal funds spent or distributed by the State of Arizona in FY2020.  

Of the $6.3 billion, more than 84 percent ($5.3 billion) was for individual and family assistance, while $352 million was allocated for public health programs. There was also $32 million earmarked for education and another $643 million categorized in the Auditor General’s report as for “miscellaneous” usage. 

The report also breaks down how the other $24.8 billion allocated to the State of Arizona and its agencies from July 2020 through October 2021 is designated, with the majority $13.1 billion (about 53 percent) again earmarked for individual and family assistance, including $7.1 billion for unemployment insurance benefits.

While most of the unemployment funding had to be spent by Sept. 6, some allocated funds can be spent as late of Sept. 30, 2025, according to the report.

The next largest chunk of COVID-19 funds to the Arizona state government is $5.7 billion for education, including $643.6 million of a direct allocation for the state’s three universities. Again, some of the fundings can be spent through September 2025.

Another $2.8 billion is categorized as “to be determined use” through Dec. 31, 2024. Examples of how those funds can be spent include COVID-19 mitigation efforts and infrastructure.

As to public health, there was $1.9 billion allocated to Arizona from July 2020 through October of this year. The main area of expenditure for these funds is for various COVID-19 “response.”  The majority of that allocation does not have to be spent until July 31, 2024.

That leaves roughly $1.3 billion in miscellaneous funding to be spent on things such as transportation, community services, and business assistance. Much of that allocation can be spent as late as Dec. 31, 2024, according to the report. 

Not included in the Auditor General’s report is an estimated $4.8 billion of federal COVID-19 related funding which the Arizona Joint Legislative Budget Committee believes was allocated to tribal governments located wholly or partially within Arizona’s geographical boundaries

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