Connecticut municipalities spent more than $41.6 million in federal COVID relief funds since last July with much of the money going to personnel and overtime costs, according to the first figures released by the state’s budgeting office.
Municipal management of federal funding has attracted closer scrutiny since federal authorities accused two West Haven employees, including former Democratic state Rep. Michael DiMassa, of fraudulently billing the city’s COVID grant program for more than $630,000 in consulting services they never provided.
Connecticut cities and towns spent less than 9% of the federal funds statewide on public health personnel costs. Waterbury expended the most on public health workers. Of the $2.48 million in federal funding it received, Waterbury directed more than $718,000 to medical personnel costs.
Not surprisingly, the state’s big cities spent the most in federal relief funds. At $4.5 million, Bridgeport, Connecticut’s most populated city, made the most total expenditures. The largest chunk of money, $2.2 million, went to general overtime payments. Hartford and New Haven followed closely at $3.3 million and $3.1 million respectively. Both cities spent most of their federal funds to pay for overtime costs.
Broadly, overtime spending made up the lion’s share of municipal relief fund expenditures. Connecticut’s local governments dedicated a quarter of the state’s allocation – more than $10.8 million – to those expenses. That category was followed closely by separate costs specific to public safety personnel like pay for police officers and firefighters. Towns and cities spent more than $10 million on those expenses.
For example, all the money the city of New Britain reported spending ($1.9 million) went to fund public safety personnel costs. Likewise, virtually all of Stamford’s spending ($1.48 million) was dedicated to public safety.
Republican lawmakers have repeatedly called for legislative scrutiny of COVID funding in the weeks since the FBI arrested DiMassa. Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly continued to urge hearings during a Thursday press conference at the state Capitol Building where a group of community leaders joined in his call.
“We believe people have a right to know how their money is being spent and must have guarantees that their tax dollars are making it to where it is intended to go,” Kelly said. “That is why we question the state’s handling of the federal COVID-19 relief funds amid allegations of misuse, a federal FBI probe and arrests in West Haven.”
Towns are expected to submit final reports of their COVID-19 CARES Act expenditures by next month.