Reynolds ‘confident’ U.S. Treasury will approve her use of COVID-19 aid for staff salaries

By: - November 23, 2021 12:27 pm

Gov. Kim Reynolds talks with reporters outside Terrace Hill in Des Moines on Nov. 23, 2021. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday she is “very, very confident” her use of nearly $450,000 in federal coronavirus relief funds for staff salaries will be approved by the U.S. Treasury.

A state audit released Nov. 15 found that the governor’s office had not provided documentation necessary to show the employees were “substantially dedicated” to responding to COVID-19. The audit questioned the use of federal money to pay 21 workers between March 2020 and June 2020.

Reynolds told reporters Tuesday she believes her office will quickly gather the needed documentation.

She said during the early days of the pandemic, her staff worked “seven days a week” trying to determine availability of hospital resources such as ventilators and intensive care unit beds, securing personal protective equipment, setting up the statewide COVID-19 testing system, trying to assist businesses that had to close and more. Staff members working at the Capitol took “500 calls a day” trying to answer Iowans’ questions, she said.

She said she has staff assigned through a memorandum of understanding to work directly with state agencies and they are paid in part by those agencies, a practice that predates her tenure as governor.

“And because we were working on COVID, 100 percent of the time, we didn’t think that it was fair for the agencies to pay for the team, because we weren’t working on policy-specific issues that was related to each one of the agencies,” Reynolds said. “We were actually working on COVID and trying to make sure that we were keeping Iowans safe, and that we were really making sure that we weren’t overwhelming our health care system.”

State Auditor Rob Sand’s audit report stated that the governor’s office had failed to provide his office documentation of the virus-related work by the 21 employees, despite being asked twice for the information.

The audit report included a spreadsheet from the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management that labeled the salary costs as a fiscal year 2020 “shortfall.” A later version of the spreadsheet was relabeled as “COVID-19 Personnel Costs.”

A previous audit found that Reynolds had misappropriated $21 million in federal COVID-19 relief money for a human resources software system that had been planned before the pandemic. That money was returned to the state’s coronavirus relief fund in December 2020 and the Legislature appropriated the money for the project earlier this year.

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Kathie Obradovich
Kathie Obradovich

Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.