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Amplifying remarks he made at Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting, Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) on Thursday sent letters to all 188 members of the General Assembly, urging them to create a commission that would probe how state and federal COVID-19 relief funding is being spent in Maryland.
The letter, addressed to House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), asks them to consider appointing “a bipartisan, independent commission of fiscal experts, which do not include elected officials, with subpoena powers and staff to fully investigate and execute an audit of every federal and state dollar spent for pandemic relief.”
As Franchot envisions it, the commission would have three principal functions:
- Discover how much federal and state relief actually went to Maryland residents and small businesses most in need.
- Account for how much federal and state relief went to “fraudsters who used stolen financial data to defraud the U.S. and Maryland treasuries.” Franchot estimated that $500 million went to fraudsters in unemployment checks alone.
- Examine pandemic profiteering by national and Maryland-based companies.
“As Maryland’s chief fiscal officer, I welcome additional financial aid with open arms,” Franchot told lawmakers. “There is no doubt that three federal stimulus plans have and will save the Maryland economy, as well as prevent further economic damage.”
But the comptroller, who is planning to run for governor in 2022, said he is concerned that one-third of the Maryland population has been struggling financially throughout the pandemic, with 138,000 jobs lost and up to 30,000 small businesses that will be shuttered forever. He said the amount of federal relief funding has been so great that it may be tough for state officials to track it all.
“I believe we urgently need this independent commission to monitor and investigate the use of such large sums of taxpayer dollars to ensure that the public treasury is protected in the future and accounted for in the past,” Franchot wrote.