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Transparency in relief fund spending is essential

Transparency in relief fund spending is essential

Lindsay Atkinson
May 15, 2020

Under the CARES Act, the state of Idaho has received $1.25 billion in relief funds from the federal government. These dollars will all, in some way, be spent in Idaho.

The state's approach to spending these relief funds is to split the money into different pools, with some money going to state agencies, some to businesses, some to tribes, and some to local governments. Since various units of government — the state, cities, counties, and special taxing districts — are being granted a portion of these relief funds, it could become difficult for the public to find out how they get spent. But it does not have to be that way.

To become transparent, every taxing district in Idaho that receives a portion of the pot of money should set up an easily accessible location to list how it spends its funds. 

The state of Idaho is already doing something to be transparent about how state agencies use their portion of relief funds. It’s setting up a page on the aptly named Transparent Idaho website. This will help Idahoans keep track of how funds are used by the state government, as nearly $57.7 million is currently set to be distributed to 72 state programs. And the amounts state agencies will receive varies, from $12 million for the Department of Correction to $196 for the Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board.

Some local governments are also preparing for transparency. The city of Boise is listing on its website all coronavirus-related funds it receives and where that money will go. So far, this includes $840,000 in Community Development Block Grants that will go to local nonprofits and $18.9 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the Boise Airport. 

But the state of Idaho and the city of Boise cannot be the only two transparent units of government. Cities, counties, ambulance districts, and fire districts are all set to receive a portion of the state’s relief funds. 

For cities, the amounts they will receive range from $7.8 million for the city of Boise to $100 for the city of Warm River. For counties, the values range from $11.9 million for Ada County to $20,900 for Clark County. And for special taxing districts, the dispersals range from $1.5 million for the fire district in Ada County to $200 for the ambulance district in Lewis County.

All taxing districts owe it to their residents to be transparent in how they spend these relief funds. In the age of the internet, the most accessible location for transparency is on a website. For very small taxing districts that do not have websites, setting up a Facebook page would also do the trick. If there is no other option, then government officials can create a poster detailing how the money is planned to be spent, and hang it in a central location, like city hall. No matter the method, transparency is key to keeping the public informed about how the government is using their money throughout this pandemic.

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