Interest earned on the money Florida got in federal coronavirus aid from President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus bill last year could help Gov. Ron DeSantis pay for transporting migrants to liberal communities, even though it's not clear that money set aside in a $12 million relocation fund was used to fly dozens of people to Martha's Vineyard this week.
The fund was included in Florida's recent budget, with DeSantis taking advantage the federal government's failure to set rules through the American Rescue Plan on how interest growing from unspent funds can be used, reports The Washington Post on Friday.
The plan was supported by Democrats and unanimously opposed by Republicans, and included around $350 billion for cities and states to use to respond to the pandemic and boost their economies. Florida got $8.8 billion from the rescue package, and earlier this year, lawmakers redirected some of the interest accruing from that money toward the governor's immigration plans, drawing calls from critics for a federal investigation.
It doesn't appear that Florida used federal aid money for the Martha's Vineyard flights or other border initiatives, The Post stressed. However, the state did write into law its plan to tap into the interest growing from federal funds.
Paul Chavez, a senior attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, has called on the inspector general for the Treasury Department to examine the matter and said Thursday that it is "definitely a concern" that Florida is using a "loophole" to spend the interest money.
He added that other states may follow suit, allowing them to use federal dollars in ways that were not intended when the stimulus bill was passed.
Florida isn't the first to take advantage of federal pandemic money to address immigration issues. Earlier this year, Texas officials used money from a separate federal program to pay for Operation Lone Star, its extended efforts to patrol the border, notes The Post.
Texas has also been sending migrants to Democrat-led communities, including sending two buses to Vice President Kamala Harris's Washington, D.C., home Thursday.
DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske confirmed in a statement that the state had sent the migrants to Martha's Vineyard and said that states like Massachusetts, California, and New York will "better facilitate the care of these individuals who they have invited into our country by incentivizing illegal immigration."
However, the governor's office didn't respond to questions about funding for the immigration plans or if money from the $12 million relocation account, funded by the interest from the COVID aid, had been used.
Fenske did comment, though, that the legislature was "consistent with federal law" when it funded the migrant relocation program.
Federal officials and a spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation, which oversees the money for relocation, did not comment on the issue.
DeSantis has also threatened to send migrants to Biden's home state in Delaware.
Florida has additionally spent money from federal coronavirus aid toward other purposes. The recently signed budget also rerouted stimulus funds to pay for a gas tax holiday, which critics said was a violation of federal law that bans states from using the money for tax cuts.
Florida and other states have successfully challenged the tax cut provision in nationwide court cases.
The provisions of the federal money say states and cities can use allocations to alleviate the economic impact of the pandemic, including replacing lost revenues and improving local infrastructure. However, local governments have used the money for other projects, including prisons and golf courses, The Post has documented in a report, "The Covid Money Trail."
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