September 17, 2020 10:31:13 AM
When Congress earlier this year enacted several trillion dollars worth of COVID-19 relief funding, it wanted to be sure the money got spent quickly.
The desire for speed was predicated on a main focus of the enormous allocation: to keep the economy from completely tanking. If the money were allocated to the states but the states dragged their feet disbursing it, it wouldn't do much good in softening the impact caused by business shutdowns and the layoffs of tens of millions of U.S. workers.
Haste in spending, however, also creates more avenues for waste, fraud and abuse. It's almost certainly going to result in waste, if not worse, in the spending on workforce training in Mississippi.
Recently, Mississippi Today reported on the dilemma this state is facing in getting $55 million of pandemic relief money spent before the end of the year to provide job training and retraining.
Most of the program, which is being called ReSkill MS, is being directed through the state's community colleges, which have rightly become the leading entity for providing workforce training in the state. Apparently, though, they aren't geared up to act this quickly, perhaps because they were themselves largely shut down for months during the early stages of the pandemic.
According to Mississippi Today, nearly $49 million of the $55 million allocation was directed toward the two-year colleges. The colleges have proposed spending $44.2 million on purchasing equipment to be used in the training and the other $4.4 million for tuition vouchers -- enough to cover 5,200 students.
Through August, however, only a fraction of the money has been spent or committed, the online news organization reports. Less than a quarter-million has been spent on equipment and just $50,000 on tuition vouchers. That leaves more than $48 million still to go in just four months to meet the federal government's deadline.
Since it's "either use it or lose it," there's going to be a lot of pressure on the community colleges to get that money spent, and there will be people coming out of the woodwork to help the community colleges spend it. The schools have already heard that backlogs in the supply chain could prevent them from being able to spend all of the equipment money in time.
State Auditor Shad White announced last month that he has a plan in place to watch over all of the $1.25 billion in coronavirus-related money coming to the state. He has hired three CPA firms to help his in- house auditors keep tabs on the spending. ReSkill MS needs to be on the "watch closely" list.
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