The United States Treasury is sending $1,200 to every American adult, as well as $500 for each dependent child. It is part of a massive $2.2 trillion bill passed by Congress to prove much-needed assistance to families struggling from the economic hardship caused by the pandemic.
For most Americans, this $1,200 does not come close to meeting monthly living expenses. Equally important, it does not begin to cover the soaring cost of healthcare for those who lost their health insurance coverage when their jobs disappeared.
But will even this limited assistance actually reach the families who need it?
To secure swift passage, the $2.2 trillion spending package was also loaded with handouts to special interests of both parties. In an effort to ensure that this huge sum of money is handled properly and fairly, Senate Democrats insisted on including a provision for an Inspector General to oversee disbursement of these funds and prevent their unintended — or even dishonest — use.
This mirrored action taken ten years earlier when an Inspector General performed a similar function in overseeing TARP stimulus funds, with taxpayers saving billions of dollars of dollars through exposure of waste, and even prosecution of fraud and abuse.
Inspectors General are found in all departments and agencies of government. They function with a high degree of independence to ensure their work is effective.
However, almost as soon as he signed the bill into law, President Trump removed the Inspector General who was preparing to oversee the use of these funds, providing no explanation for his decision.
As a Republican former Member of Congress who served for 20 years on the Appropriations — spending — Committee and as a member of Republicans for Integrity, I ask: “Where were Republican senators?”
Why has Congress so readily abandoned its responsibility for oversight of spending — perhaps its most important constitutional function?
Already, evidence of misuse of these relief funds abounds.
For example, advocates of transparency and ethics in government are criticizing a high ranking Interior Department official for her role in securing access to billions of dollars in coronavirus aid for a handful of large Alaska corporations, including
one that previously employed her as a lobbyist and top executive.
In another example, top business leaders are using their political connections to secure lucrative deals with hospitals to provide essential supplies, often at highly inflated rates.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is tracking these and many other instances of abuse and waste of taxpayer dollars. Republican Senators can not remain silent about widespread misuse of taxpayer money.
Nor should we.
You can visit the new COVID Money Tracker website created by the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (whose board I serve on) to get the latest information.
In their own words, CRFB’s COVID Money Tracker will “track and make public data and information about the new and expanded benefit programs, cash payment, grants, loans, tax cuts, equity purchases, and other measures to provide the kind of transparency that helps create accountability.”
Every taxpaying citizen should keep an eye on how wisely YOUR money is being spent in this pandemic relief effort. Using this information, you will have the chance to send a message to elected officials this November who misuse their office to benefit special interests.
Now, more than ever, as taxpayer dollars are consumed and government borrows massively against the credit of future generations at rates never before contemplated, every citizen has a role to play in assuring the money gets to the struggling families most in need.
Jim Kolbe is a Republican former United States Congressman who served from 1985 to 2007. He is a founding member of Republicans for Integrity, which brings together Republican former Members of Congress who seek to put “country before party.”