West Virginia Auditor John B. McCuskey Seeks Transparency With COVID Aid Spending
CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s county and municipal governments are set to receive a historic amount of federal funding in the latest COVID-19 relief package and the State Auditor’s Office wants to help make sure those dollars are tracked and appropriately spent.
“It’s going to create some great opportunities,” State Auditor John B. McCuskey said, “but it’s going to create some new challenges, especially with keeping track of that money, making sure it’s being used for what it’s supposed for, and finding innovative ways for counties and cities, to be able to work together to use it as well.”
President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan last week, the latest package meant to help people, governments and businesses suffering from COVID-19 financial hardships.
The bill includes direct $1,400 payments to households which hit many bank accounts this past week, expanded federal pandemic unemployment benefits and more than $350 billion in aid to state and local governments.
Of that $350 billion, West Virginia will receive another $1.25 billion, but county and municipal governments will receive direct funding from the federal government. Larger cities will receive $162 million, smaller cities will receive $141 million, and counties will receive $321 million. The funding will be distributed based on population numbers.
The funding can be used to reimburse local governments for expenses related to COVID-19. It can also be used for specific infrastructure projects, such as broadband expansion and water and sewer projects.
McCuskey said his office has been making preparations since they learned of the inception of the American Rescue Plan. The State Auditor’s Office will create an online transparency portal so the public can track how local governments spend the money. McCuskey’s office plans to schedule training events with cities and counties once the U.S. Treasury Department releases guidance on how the government can spend the money.
“What we are trying to avoid is having this money fall into the age-old West Virginia trap, where it turns into a political football, and we get 10 years down the road and the citizens of our state say, ‘Hey, whatever happened to that billion dollars,'” McCuskey said.
McCuskey said his office is also working on a way for cities and counties to pool their money for joint infrastructure projects. The State Auditor’s Office has spent the last four years building relationships with local governments, helping develop new budgeting and accounting systems for them to use. The office also has experience tracking COVID-19 expenses, creating an online portal to track federal CARES Act expenses.
“We’ve spent four years modernizing our office, creating innovative ways for us to get our job done, and all of those things have prepared us perfectly for this pandemic and the ensuing government response,” McCuskey said.