Commissioner Fried Seeks Answers on CARES Act Funds, Warns Governor of Hunger Crisis

Dec 17, 2020

Tallahassee, Fla. — Yesterday, Congressional negotiators indicated that the next COVID-19 economic stimulus package will not include funding for state and local governments. Florida previously received $8.32 billion in federal CARES Act funding, of which $4.58 billion was for use by Florida’s state government. The Governor noted in August that “those CARES Act dollars are obligated already,” but there has been no public accounting of the ways in which this taxpayer funding has been obligated or expended. Per federal law, states cannot make new CARES Act expenditures past December 30, and must return any unused CARES Act funding to the U.S. Treasury by the same date.

State officials, including Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, an independently-elected member of the Florida Cabinet, have repeatedly asked the Governor to fully and publicly account for how more than $4 billion in CARES Act taxpayer money is being spent, requests which the Governor has repeatedly ignored. Commissioner Fried also asked the Governor to address this at several meetings of the Florida Cabinet, agenda requests for which were also ignored. CARES Act spending reports submitted to the U.S. Treasury are not readily available to the public.

With food insecurity worsening in Florida due to COVID-19, Commissioner Fried also requested on September 11 and again on December 4 that the Governor dedicate part of Florida’s CARES Act funding for emergency relief for school meal programs that feed 2.9 million children. Florida school districts lost $262 million in nutrition funding due to COVID-19, and may face up to $370 million in additional losses in the 2020-21 school year. Governors in states including Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia have spent CARES Act funds to support school and child nutrition programs.

“With the next federal COVID-19 stimulus package likely not including state and federal aid, the Governor must explain publicly how he’s spending more than $4 billion in taxpayer money that’s supposed to help our citizens,” said Commissioner Nikki Fried. “I’ve asked the Governor for transparency for four months. I’ve asked him to update us at Florida Cabinet meetings. I’ve asked him to expend these funds to support food for more than 2 million children relying on free or reduced school meals, for whom pandemic-worsened hunger is very real. Neither I, nor the people of Florida who we serve, have gotten a single answer from this Governor. We are less than two weeks from this funding’s end. Kids and families are facing a growing hunger crisis. This stonewalling is hurting Floridians, it’s unacceptable, and it cannot continue.”

“Governor DeSantis hasn’t offered a single penny in direct assistance to small businesses using the billions in CARES Act money intended for struggling Floridians,” said State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith (HD-49). “For months, he’s refused to provide details on how or if he intends to spend remaining funds in support of families facing eviction, unemployment, and food insecurity. Time is running out and Floridians deserve to know – will Governor DeSantis be helping them?”

Background: For months, the Governor has been under mounting bipartisan pressure to publicly reveal how his administration has allocated or spent Florida’s share of federal coronavirus relief funds. Due to the pandemic, Florida faces more than $5 billion in projected revenue shortfalls in the next two years, with major issues looming including continued unemployment, a housing and rent crisis, and worsening chronic hunger that already affects 3 million Floridians and 850,000 children. Commissioner Fried previously sent two letters to the Governor requesting that he expend CARES Act funding to support schools in the National School Lunch Program facing reduced federal funding due to COVID-19.