Watchdog group seeks clarity on how Oklahoma spent CARES Act money, meeting at Capitol canceled before lawmakers start review

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma lawmakers were set to meet Thursday to discuss how millions of dollars from the Coronavirus Relief Fund were spent, only for it to be cancelled due to a family emergency.

Wednesday, the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency, or LOFT, released a 188 page report that looked into the expenditures made by the CARES FOWARD, the entity created to manage federal funds. LOFT executive director, Mike Jackson, said it was important for lawmakers to know how the state spent the CARES Act money, as it may impact the 2021 budget if the state is forced to pay it back.

“What we found, and the scope changed along the way, what we found was that some of the process lacked clarity and understanding,” said Jackson.

That clarity needed as state lawmakers start talking about the state budget for this year.
“Because there were three specific entities that were created by the CARES Act, itself, to look at waste, neglect and those kinds of things. They’ll also have to go through a federal audit and a single audit here in the state of Oklahoma,” said Jackson. “So we wanted to make sure that the documentation was there and was easily accessible.

Governor Stitt, responding to the report, saying in part:

“The CARES FORWARD team always expected- and still expects- to spend a significant amount of time after Dec. 30 looking at all documentation and organizing materials for the audits that will come.”

The LOFT team, asked for that documentation from CARES FORWARD multiple times, but never received any of it.

“They did provide us a lot of information, but we were not given to a single location where we could find all that data,” said Jackson.

Governor Stitt and COO for Oklahoma, John Budd, signing off on their response, calling the evaluation, “agenda driven,” and that the report contains, “numerous inaccuracies and gross misrepresentations which call into question the entire credibility of and usefulness of the report.”

The Governor and COO also pointing to the CRF website, saying it was created for transparency. 
News 4 has has been been digging through the website for weeks, asking questions about expenses, including thousands of dollars in fast food and restaurant expenses, more than $10 million to company Green Rock Hemp Holdings LLC, a $3.15 charge to Candlewood Suites and a Redbox DVD rental totaling $19.69.

There is also $21 million that is listed as ‘various’ on the CRF website. News 4 learned that money was used for December 2020 payroll at the State Health Department in order to free up funds for covid testing expenses in 2021. Jackson said it was approved by the U.S. Treasury Department.

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