State Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) announced Wednesday that he is creating a panel within his agency to conduct a comprehensive review of state and federal COVID-related spending.
Lawmakers inserted language into the Fiscal Year 2022 budget requiring Franchot’s office to provide quarterly reports on state and federal economic stimulus spending and his agency’s efforts to detect fraud.
In response, Franchot established the Comptroller’s Workgroup on Pandemic Spending to review how stimulus funds have been spent; determine if the funds went to intended recipients and populations most in need; examine disparities in distribution; and identify possible predatory fraud and pandemic profiteering.
“The billions of dollars in federal and state aid has been essential for individuals and small businesses to survive the debilitating economic effects of the global pandemic, but we must make sure these dollars are being properly spent and bringing the greatest benefit to as many Marylanders as possible,” Franchot said in a statement. “At the same time, we need to determine if theft of taxpayer dollars has occurred through fraud and ensure that companies did not unjustly profit from pandemic aid while our friends and neighbors have been financially decimated.”
The workgroup, chaired by the comptroller, will include the deputy comptroller, the directors of the comptroller’s General Accounting and Compliance divisions, and the directors of the Bureau of Revenue Estimates and the Office of Risk Management.
The panel will meet biweekly, beginning in May. All sessions will be livestreamed and archived. Meeting topics will include unemployment insurance fraud, pandemic profiteering by large corporations, the legislative audit on the purchase of COVID-19 test kits from South Korea, emergency procurement practices and access to relief funds by small businesses and low-wage earners. The workgroup will also receive testimony from experts in fraud detection along with firsthand accounts from Marylanders affected by mishandled pandemic relief.
Since March 2020, state, county and local governments, businesses and taxpayers have received over $50 billion in federal funds in response to COVID-19. The state has spent billions more to procure goods and services and established pandemic relief programs.
“As stewards of the taxpayers’ hard-earned money, it is our responsibility to ensure these funds are being used as expected and reaching those who need it most,” Franchot said.
The General Assembly fenced off $400,000 in Comptroller agency funds to establish and conduct this review. Another $100,000 of the agency’s budget is contingent on the submission of four quarterly reports that include a full accounting of funds provided for pandemic relief and any fraud uncovered through the panel’s review.