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A document from the state auditor from early January shows Democratic Gov. Evers had about $930 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding still to spend, as well as a small share of CARES Act money
That would mean of the state’s first round of ARPA money — just shy of $1.5 billion — about a third had been doled out at that time.
Evers’ office says it’s important to note that some of the ARPA funding has been allocated for specific priorities, meaning even though it’s not out the door, it can’t be used for other things
Billions of dollars in federal funding has been flowing into Wisconsin since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first round of funding arrived in April 2020 courtesy of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (better known as CARES), which dealt nearly $2 billion to the state, to be spent largely at the discretion of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
The state received another batch in May 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan Act: About $1.5 billion, with a second payment set to arrive sometime this spring.
So far, Evers has directed the money to pandemic-related initiatives such as testing and contact tracing, as well as to broader issues such as infrastructure, tourism recovery and support of small businesses, according to an end-of-year report on the ARPA funds from the state Department of Administration.
All of this has given Evers a rare opportunity to dole out money without the approval of the Republican-controlled state Legislature — and those lawmakers aren’t happy about it. They’ve pushed unsuccessfully to gain control over how the state should spend the relief money.
Now, they’re turning their attention to how fast the governor is getting those dollars out the door. On Feb. 2, 2022, the Senate Republicans made this statement on Twitter:
"The truth is, Gov. Evers has not ‘acted quickly.’ He has only gotten one-third of the money meant for COVID relief out the door. He is sitting on $930 million in ARPA funds left unspent. In fact, he still has CARES Act money from two years ago. What is he waiting for?"
The statement was in response to a tweet from a Democratic state senator, who had praised Evers for acting quickly with the money.
There are many things embedded in the Senate Republicans’ tweet, but we’re looking here at how much ARPA and CARES Act money has been distributed and how much is still sitting in the state’s coffers.
Let’s dig in.
When asked to back up the claims, Adam Gibbs, communications director for Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, sent a Jan. 9, 2022 document from the Legislative Audit Bureau showing that of the nearly $1.5 billion the state had received so far as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, the state had spent about $541 million of it.
That would be about a third of that chunk of money — and leave about $930 million left over.
The same document showed Wisconsin has spent about $1.9 billion of the nearly $2 billion in funds from the CARES Act, leaving about $85 million still in Evers’ hands.
On its face, that would make the claim accurate.
But there’s also a wrinkle.
Evers’ team noted that in addition to the money that’s already been spent, there is money that hasn’t been spent but has been earmarked for a specific purpose — in budgetary parlance, this is described as "obligated."
"Any small business owner knows that any accrued expenses should be considered ‘spent,’" Evers communications director Britt Cudaback wrote in an email.
Many pandemic relief programs don’t provide funding at the time the award is given, Cudaback said. For example, funds from the state’s Workforce Innovation grant program are given to grantees periodically as they show progress toward their goals.
When looking at how much funding from ARPA was expended or obligated, Cudaback said that’s nearly $750 million through Dec. 31, 2021, which doesn’t include programs that have been announced since the start of this year — such as grants for investment in tourism and employee development in the meat-processing industry, among others.
Deadlines for allocating and spending the ARPA money also won’t approach for years, Cudaback added. Wisconsin must allocate the money by the end of 2024 and spend it by the end of 2026.
"We’d contend that having nearly $750 million of funds expended or obligated in less than a year’s time with funds that effectively have a five-year runway meets the definition of acting quickly," she wrote.
Similarly, Cudaback said, all $2 billion in CARES Act funding has been allocated, with just about 1% left to be spent.
Still, while that provides context on why more money hasn’t headed out the door, it doesn’t dispute what Senate Republicans claimed. Evers does still have ARPA and CARES Act funding to dole out, even if some of it is earmarked.
Senate Republicans claimed that Evers had only gotten a third of COVID relief money out the door, still sitting on about $930 million in ARPA funds, as well as some CARES Act funding.
According to the Legislative Audit Bureau, those numbers are right — but they don’t take into account the fact that some of those funds are already set aside, or "obligated," to specific purposes.
Our definition of Mostly True is that the statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.
That fits here.
Legislative Audit Bureau, State of Wisconsin Fiscal Year 2020-21 Financial Statements, accessed Feb. 14, 2022
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin receiving $700 million less than expected from federal stimulus," May 11, 2021
Department of Administration, State of Wisconsin Recovery Plan: State and local fiscal recovery funds 2021 report, accessed Feb. 14, 2022
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Republican lawmakers push again to control COVID-19 relief spending, but Evers says he will veto," March 5, 2021
Email exchange with Evers communications director Britt Cudaback
Office of the governor, "Press release: Gov. Evers Announces More Than $20 Million in Tourism Capital Investment Grants for Projects Across the State," Feb. 2, 2022
Office of the governor, "Press release: Gov. Evers, DATCP Announce Investment in Statewide Meat Talent Development," Jan. 11, 2022
National Conference of State Legislatures, "ARPA state fiscal recovery fund allocations," Feb. 17, 2022
Legislative Audit Bureau, State of Wisconsin FY 2020-21 financial statements, accessed Feb. 9, 2022
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