POLITICO’s Gary Fineout and Lisa Kashinsky reported on the Treasury Department’s probe. Read the full text:
The Treasury Department is examining Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ migrant transports and whether the Republican governor improperly used money connected to Covid-19 aid to facilitate the flights.
The agency’s inspector general’s office confirmed to several members of Massachusetts’s Democratic congressional delegation that it planned “to get this work underway as soon as possible” to probe Florida’s spending as part of ongoing audits into how states have used the billions in sent to them as part of the American Rescue Plan, according to a letter provided by Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey’s office.
In an Oct. 7 letter to Markey and five House members, Richard K. Delmar, deputy inspector general for the Treasury Department told the lawmakers that the agency would “review the allowability” of Covid-19 aid to states “related to immigration generally, and will specifically confirm whether interest earned on (the) funds was utilized by Florida related to immigration activities, and if so, what conditions and limitations apply to such use.”
There was no immediate response from Treasury officials or the DeSantis administration about the ongoing probe.
Last month, DeSantis used two charter flights to transport nearly 50 Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, a move that sparked widespread outrage among Democrats. DeSantis contended the move was to draw attention to immigration policies of the administration of President Joe Biden, but Democrats accused the Florida governor of using vulnerable migrants in a political stunt. Biden called DeSantis’ flights “reckless” and several Democrats, including California Gov. Gavin Newsom, have called on the Justice Department to investigate DeSantis’ flights.
Several groups have filed legal challenges to stop Florida from facilitating more transports, and a Texas sheriff is currently probing the flights. But the Treasury letter marks the first time federal authorities have acknowledged they’re looking into the transports.
Florida did not directly use federal Covid-19 funds to transport the migrants. But state legislators earlier this year directed that $12 million in interest earned off Covid-19 aid be used to pay for the transport of “unauthorized aliens from this state.” So far, Florida paid a Panhandle-based company $1.56 million to fly migrants but DeSantis has vowed to continue transporting them to Blue strongholds.
Markey applauded the Treasury’s “swift response,” a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Democrat said. Markey also, in a tweet, lauded the department for confirming it would investigate DeSantis’ “use of Covid relief funds to cruelly transport migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard under false pretenses and without any consideration for their personal dignity or basic needs.”
Markey late last month asked Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to investigate whether DeSantis’ migrant charter flights broke the department’s rules by allegedly misleading those on board.
The letter from Delmar does not provide any timeline for how long it would take for the inspector general’s office to review the spending by Florida, although it notes that auditors had “already sought information from Florida” about how it has spent Covid-19 aid. DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature have used American Rescue Plan money on a wide array of programs, including bonuses for first responders and a month-long gas tax holiday.
“We plan to get this work underway as quickly as possible, consistent with meeting our other oversight mandates and priorities, both in pandemic recovery programs as well as the other Treasury programs and operations for which we have responsibility,” states the letter from Delmar. “We are also monitoring legislative and judicial challenges to the use of the funds for this purpose; such developments may affect the scope and timing of our review.”