(The Center Square) – More and more federally funded, controversial projects that came as part of pandemic-relief spending passed by Congress are coming to light, and few of them do not have anything to do with COVID-19.
Citizens Against Government Waste released its annual breakdown of the last year’s “nightmarish” federal spending in honor of Halloween. The report highlights several taxpayer-funded projects, many of them coming from the trillions in “COVID relief” passed through three congressional spending bills.
The budget watchdog group blasted Hawaii, which reportedly doled out $1 million in taxpayer funds for a “sea urchin hatchery” as well as $300,000 for “an engineering assessment of the now-condemned Aloha Stadium.”
In September of last year, the McAllen Independent School District in Texas approved a deal to spend $4 million in these federal funds for an urban bird sanctuary.
The report also names Iowa, which spent $12.5 million of the funds to build a baseball stadium on the famous “Field of Dreams” site to encourage tourism.
“The myriad instances of state and local governments misusing COVID relief funds with a plethora of payments for putrid projects shows how lawmakers have pulled the ultimate trick on taxpayers,” the group said in its report.
Meanwhile, experts estimate that hundreds of billions of dollars of COVID-19 relief funding was improperly paid out and lost to fraud.
The Department of Labor’s inspector general estimated last month more than 10% of unemployment payments have been improperly handed out, which would be over $85 billion in COVID-19 relief unemployment payments alone.
Those COVID-era spending projects spiked the deficit to $3.1 trillion in fiscal year 2020 and $2.8 trillion for fiscal year 2021. The deficit fell to $1.4 trillion for fiscal year 2022, but that figure is still roughly 50% higher than the deficit was in 2019, before the pandemic-era spending.
The spending projects highlighted in this report come as other more politicized COVID-relief spending efforts sparked controversy.
As The Center Square previously reported, leading House Republicans raised major concerns over hundreds of billions of dollars of “ESSER funding” that were directed to help schools recover from the pandemic, some of which was spent advancing LGBT issues, “equity warriors” and more.
House Committee on Oversight and Reform Ranking Member Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., and Committee on Education and Labor Ranking Member Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., sent a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona blasting this use of taxpayer dollars.
“For example, California used ESSER funds for training in ‘environmental literacy,’ ‘ethnic studies,’ and ‘LGBTQ+ cultural competency,’” the letter said. “New York used part of the $9 billion it received to provide staff development on ‘culturally responsive sustaining instruction’ and ‘privilege’ and to recognize ‘equity warriors.’ Illinois received $5.1 billion, which it partially used to emphasize ‘equity and diversity’ and make ‘equity driven investments.’ At least ten other state plans included proposals to use the ESSER funds to implement racially biased curriculum and programs based on critical race theory.”