A watchdog group with the U.S. Treasury Department plans to examine whether Florida’s state government properly used federal pandemic recovery money in connection to last month’s efforts to relocate migrants, a top official with the agency told the Massachusetts congressional delegation last week.
In a letter dated Oct. 7, Richard Delmar, the Treasury Department’s deputy inspector general, wrote that his department plans “to get this work underway as quickly as possible,” as part of its broader oversight of Florida’s use of funds allocated by the American Rescue Plan Act last year.
Delmar was responding to a written request from members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, who last month called on the department to investigate what the lawmakers deemed a misuse of pandemic relief money.
In September, a relocation program authorized by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis transported almost 50 migrants from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, by airplane, setting off a national firestorm over the increase of people arriving at the country’s southern border and whether the Republican governor was using human beings as political pawns.
The $12 million migrants relocation program authorized by the state Legislature was paid for by interest earned from federal COVID-19 relief money.
In a statement, DeSantis Communications Director Taryn Fenske said that officials with the state’s Office of Policy and Budget have already spoken with the inspector general’s office about the use of interest to pay for the migrant relocation program, telling the federal agency that doing so was permitted under the rules.
The conversation happened “weeks ago,” said Fenske, who downplayed the significance of the Treasury Department action.
“Reviews by Treasury are typical and, as stated by the OIG, are part of its oversight responsibilities,” the spokeswoman said.
Democrats, for their part, hailed the deputy inspector general’s letter.
In a statement released Wednesday, Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts praised what he called the deputy inspector general’s “swift response.” Markey was one of the lawmakers from Massachusetts who asked for the investigation last month.
“For the sake of the migrants who were lured onto charter planes under false pretenses, and for the commendable Commonwealth residents who rallied together to offer support, I hope that this investigation sheds light on whether Gov. DeSantis misused funds that were intended for COVID relief for Floridians,” Markey said.
Markey and other Massachusetts lawmakers also asked the Transportation Department last month to probe the matter, arguing the State of Florida likely violated department rules by transporting individuals on charter flights under false pretenses. A source on Capitol Hill said that DOT has not responded yet to the Sept. 28 letter.
Neither the Department of Homeland Security nor the Justice Department has commented on whether they are investigating the operation, but DHS condemned DeSantis for “using vulnerable men, women, and children as props for a political stunt.”
© 2022 McClatchy Washington Bureau
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.