Audit shows Oklahoma likely misspent millions in federal relief funds

Jun 27, 2023, 3:29 PM

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Improper oversight by state officials led to more than $29 million in federal funds being misspent that may have to be repaid to the federal government, Oklahoma Auditor & Inspector Cindy Byrd said Tuesday.

Byrd’s office released a scathing audit of about $14 billion in spending made by the state in fiscal year 2021, most of it in the form of COVID-19-relief funds.

“Oklahoma has systemic issues that make me very concerned for taxpayers,” Byrd said in a statement following the release of the 250-page audit. “If the federal government decides the state must pay back these questioned costs, you and I will end up paying the bill.

“If that happens, gross mismanagement and lack of compliance and oversight will be to blame.”

Oklahoma is not alone in having questionable oversight of COVID-19 relief funding. An Associated Press analysis found that fraudsters potentially stole more than $280 billion in federal pandemic-relief funds, making it the greatest grift in U.S. history. The analysis found another $123 billion was wasted or misspent, making a combined loss of 10% of the $4.2 trillion the U.S. government has so far disbursed in pandemic relief aid.

In Oklahoma, the audit of about $1.1 billion in federal funds through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act of 2020 (CARES) to mitigate the effects of the pandemic found more than $12.2 in questioned costs, which refers to spending that failed to align with the objectives of the grant.

The audit found the state also failed to properly oversee more than $376 million of expenditures for the Emergency Rental Assistance program aimed at helping households pay rent or utilities during the pandemic. The audit determined the administrator of the funding, Community Cares Partner, a program of Communities Foundation of Oklahoma, charged the program $1.6 million in excessive management fees.

Because of the administrative overcharge, many Oklahomans who applied for ERA awards were denied assistance because the unallowable charges were kept by the foundation, Byrd said.

A message left Tuesday with a spokesperson for Communities Foundation of Oklahoma was not immediately returned.

The audit also targeted more than $8 million in questioned expenditures designated for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund, or GEER, which was designed for governors to help meet the needs of educating students during the pandemic.

The program offered 5,000 families $1,500 each to spend at designated retailers, but the audit found the state didn’t place any restrictions on what families could purchase.

“We found that $1.7 million was spent on various non-educational items such as kitchen appliances, power tools, furniture and entertainment,” Byrd said.

Kate Vesper, a spokesperson for Gov. Kevin Stitt, said in a statement Tuesday that his office maintains the position that “a negligent out-of-state vendor should be held accountable to recover the federal taxpayer dollars in question.” But federal auditors rejected that argument after it released a report on the same program last year. Federal auditors said at the time that the state did not take advantage of an available internal control option offered by ClassWallet, the contractor hired to administer the program.

Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond said the audit report, particularly with respect to the GEER funds, was “deeply troubling.”

“A number of concerning items from the audit will require further investigation,” Drummond said in a statement. “I refuse to tolerate what amounts to a pervasive culture of waste, mismanagement and apparent fraud.”

United States News

Associated Press

3 Columbia University administrators put on leave over alleged text exchange at antisemitism panel

NEW YORK (AP) — Columbia University said it has placed three administrators on leave while it investigates allegations that they exchanged unprofessional text messages while attending a panel discussion about antisemitism on campus. The university said the administrators work for its undergraduate Columbia College, which hosted the panel discussion “Jewish Life on Campus: Past, Present […]

6 hours ago

Associated Press

Man charged in shooting that critically wounded Philadelphia officer, police say

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A 36-year-old Philadelphia man was charged Sunday with attempted murder in connection with a shooting that critically wounded a police officer after a traffic stop, police said. Ramon Rodriguez Vazquez also faces charges that include aggravated assault and home invasion, police said. The 31-year-old officer and his partner stopped a car carrying […]

8 hours ago

Associated Press

California boy, 4, who disappeared from campground found safe after 22 hours alone in wilderness

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A 4-year-old California boy who wandered away from a campground in the Sierra National Forest was found safe after spending 22 hours alone in the wilderness, authorities said. A search-and-rescue team of about 50 officers and volunteers set out around 11 a.m. Thursday after the child was reported missing from the […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

One man died and five others were hospitalized in downtown St. Louis shooting

ST. LOUIS (AP) — One man is dead and five others have been wounded in a downtown St. Louis shooting, police said. Police believe women were fighting in a park when men interfered and drew firearms, according to social media posts from the agency. The man who died was in his mid-twenties, police said. Five […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

Michigan sheriff’s deputy fatally shot pursuing a stolen vehicle in Detroit

DETROIT (AP) — A Michigan county sheriff’s deputy was fatally shot while pursing a suspected stolen vehicle in Detroit, the Oakland County sheriff’s office said Sunday. Bradley J. Reckling, who was on duty in an unmarked car, was following a 2022 Chevy Equinox Saturday evening after the vehicle was reported stolen earlier in the day […]

10 hours ago

Associated Press

Triple-shooting suspect captured after intensive search across Colorado farmland

ALAMOSA, Colorado (AP) — The suspect in a shooting that left one person dead and two others with critical injuries was captured Sunday following an intensive search across a huge area of southern Colorado. Officers went door to door as aircraft searched overhead for Henry Corral, 44, who authorities said had taken off on foot […]

10 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s how to be worry-free when your A/C goes out in the middle of summer

PHOENIX -- As Arizona approaches another hot summer, Phoenix residents are likely to spend more time indoors.


DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.


Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

Audit shows Oklahoma likely misspent millions in federal relief funds