Terlaje: ‘COVID relief funds report reveals dismal allocation to DPHSS’

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Sen. Therese Terlaje, the chair of the health committee. (PNC file photo)

The October Coronavirus/COVID-19 Relief Funds Expenditure Report released by the administration reveals that DPHSS, the lead agency in the fight against the coronavirus, has been allocated a disappointing amount for its operational COVID-19 response.

According to the report, the entire amount of COVID-19 Relief Funds have been budgeted but not all has been expended yet. The report shows that out of $117.9 million as of October 31, 2020, there is $41 million unexpended.

Out of the $117 million budgeted, only a total of $513, 237 in CARES funding to DPHSS can be confirmed in the report. That is inclusive of $313,237 for DPHSS COVID Testing under “Item 1. COVID-19 Related Medical Expenses” of the report and $200,000 under “Item 2. COVID-19 Related Public Health Expenses.”

The report further discloses that DPHSS was allocated $0 dollars under “Item 4. COVID-19 Related Actions to Facilitate Compliance with Public Health Measures.” In June, DPHSS made a request for an additional $3 million in COVID-19 Relief Funds for the Division of Environmental Health and other programs to assist with compliance and informed the Legislature Oversight Committee that the Governor approved this request in August.

Based on this report, it is not clear if this funding was received or will be received. However, Lester Carlson of the Bureau of Budget and Management Research confirmed during Monday’s legislative session that no additional CARES money would be allocated from the $41 million remaining to DPHSS.

The report also lists $18,512,000 allocated to executive branch agencies for COVID payroll expenses under “Item 3. COVID-19 Related Payroll Expenses for Public Safety, Public Health, Health Care, Human Services” of the report. However, the report does not specify how much of the $18.5 million went to DPHSS personnel.

“The Committee on Health has consistently pushed for the prioritization of funding to DPHSS and GMH and have been repeatedly assured by the administration and agency heads that funding needs are being addressed. Oversight hearings have exposed that DPHSS services did not extend to medical monitoring of those tested positive for COVID nor was it equipped to care for those with prior health conditions, sometimes was overwhelmed and lagged in tracing despite changes meant to streamline its processes,” Sen. Terlaje said.

She added: “It is perplexing that the lead agency and most critical services vital to our health, safety, and overall success against the coronavirus, have been the least prioritized with this funding. Especially with the growing surge in positive cases and deaths and our overwhelmed public hospital. I urge the Administration to prioritize the remaining $41 million in CARES funding to public health and GMH. Anything less is unconscionable.”

(Sen. Therese Terlaje News Release)

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