American Oversight’s Covid-19 Oversight Hub provides news and policy resources to help you keep track of investigations into the government’s pandemic response. The project brings together a public documents database, an oversight tracker of important ongoing investigations and litigation, regular news updates, and deeper dives into key issues.
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- Thurs., Sept. 23: The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing to review the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending powers during the pandemic.
The Summer Surge
A summer that began with high hopes for the end of the coronavirus pandemic has ended with August having seen the fourth-highest monthly total of positive cases since the beginning of the pandemic. Last week, the country was seeing more than 150,000 new cases a day, the highest levels since January, and younger people are dying at higher rates than in previous surges.
While the latest surge may have finally peaked in recent days, death rates remain high and the Delta variant is still holding tight in multiple states as a new school year begins and autumn sets in. And intensive care units in hospitals across the country remain at capacity, with tragic consequences for people needing medical care. More than 650,000 people in the U.S. have died from the virus.
Masking in Schools
Students and staff in the nation’s largest school district returned to the classroom this week in New York City. They join tens of millions across the country who have already resumed in-person learning, albeit in districts whose approaches to preventative measures like masking have varied widely, especially by state. While New York and other states have mandated masks in schools, other states, including Florida and Texas, have banned such mandates.
- Last week, a federal appeals court granted Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis the approval to reinstate a ban on school mask mandates. More than a dozen districts have defied the ban, and the DeSantis administration has responded by withholding funds.
- Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that he is suing multiple school districts that have defied Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates.
- President Joe Biden has said federal funding would be provided to districts whose state funds have been withheld for instituting such pandemic measures. The Department of Education’s civil rights office has also opened an investigation into Florida’s prohibition of masking requirements in schools.
Of course, masking requirements aren’t the only measures that have been contentiously politicized. Last week, as the U.S. dropped to seventh among G7 countries in percentage of population with at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, Biden announced new actions meant to spur more Americans to finally get their shots. This includes requiring all companies with more than 100 employees to mandate vaccination or weekly testing, and requiring vaccinations for federal employees and contractors with no testing option. While the announcement was, as expected, met with a conservative backlash, some polling indicates that support for mandates in specific situations is growing.
In the States
- Three Vermont state troopers resigned after they were accused of making fake vaccination cards.
- Professors in Georgia have quit over their schools’ lack of mask or vaccine mandates.
- According to a Politico analysis last week, the number of child Covid deaths in Florida has more than doubled since the beginning of August.
- Florida Gov. DeSantis has threatened to impose fines on city and county governments that require employee vaccinations — $5,000 for each employee who is forced to get a shot.
- After hundreds of thousands attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota last month, case numbers shot up more than 600 percent.
- Health officials in Jefferson County, Colorado, will send out mobile vaccination units only if security is provided, following harassment that has included vandalism, verbal abuse, and even a reported attack involving fireworks.
- Coronavirus patients from Idaho, where the governor has refused mask or vaccine requirements, are filling hospitals in Washington state.
- Covid Exposure Apps: The Government Accountability Office conducted a technology assessment of smartphone apps designed to notify users of potential Covid exposure, identifying technical limitations, challenges related to privacy and security concerns, and limited data to evaluate apps’ effectiveness.
- Medicaid Home- and Community-Based Services (HCBS): During the pandemic, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services allowed states to make temporary changes to Medicaid HCBS. The GAO found that CMS lacked procedures for monitoring such changes, and that the agency’s plan for evaluating those changes was unclear.
- USDA Food Box Program: The Farmers to Families Food Box program was created in 2020 to provide food to those in need, to help contractors retain jobs, and to support producers. The GAO found that the Department of Agriculture had not collected the requisite data to be able to assess its performance in meeting the latter two goals.
- Business Tax Returns: The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration conducted an audit to assess the steps the Internal Revenue Service is taking to address the backlog in business tax returns that resulted from the closure of tax processing centers last spring.
- EOIR Pandemic Operations: The GAO reviewed the Executive Office of Immigration Review’s management of operations during the pandemic, recommending that EOIR issue guidance on mask-wearing requirements in the courtroom and regularly engage with stakeholders.
- Pandemic Relief Funds: The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee released a brief report on lessons learned while overseeing $5 trillion worth of relief funds, including the need to prioritize funding for underserved communities.
- 16th Report of Congressional Oversight Commission: The report provides updates regarding actions taken by the Treasury and the Fed on lending programs and facilities under Subtitle A of the CARES Act.
- Education Stabilization Fund (ESF): The CARES Act provided $30.75 billion for the ESF to respond to the pandemic. A flash report from the Department of Education’s inspector general found that grantees and subgrantees inconsistently reported audit data on subprograms to the Federal Audit Clearinghouse.
- SNAP Online Purchasing: The USDA’s inspector general (OIG) reviewed the Food and Nutrition Service’s controls over a pilot program allowing households to make purchases online using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. The pilot program was created in 2014 and expanded in response to the pandemic. OIG recommended that FNS perform an updated risk assessment and establish controls for monitoring and evaluating retailers’ requirements regarding the use of personal information.
State CARES Act Spending
Good Jobs First’s Covid Stimulus Watch published an article about states that have failed to disclose how they’re spending funds received through the Coronavirus Relief Fund. The CARES Act requires state governments to document how they are spending their shares of the $150 billion pot, but the rules about disclosure are vague. For example, Texas “got $8 billion but has no publicly available information on how the money was spent — it lists only how much cities and counties received in the aggregate.”
SIGPR Memorandum on Caribbean Sun Airlines
The Office of the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery (SIGPR) sent a memo notifying the Treasury that Caribbean Sun Airlines, which obtained a $6.8 million Treasury loan last December, had not responded to a notice of non-compliance with the U.S. Treasury Aviation Loan and Guarantee Agreement. SIGPR recommended that the Treasury take immediate action.
Covid-19 in ICE Facilities
The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general (OIG) sent Tae Johnson, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a memo regarding a review of ICE’s management of Covid-19 in its facilities. OIG’s inspection turned up a number of instances in which staff and detainees did not take proper mitigation measures, and found that facilities did not consistently communicate about test results. OIG also found that ICE headquarters did not provide effective oversight of its facilities during the pandemic.
- The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis sent letters to the governors of Wyoming, Alabama, South Dakota, Arkansas, and North Dakota, asking that they speed up the distribution of emergency rental assistance funds.
- On Sept. 7, Sen. Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy asking that the company take aggressive action to stop misinformation about Covid-19 vaccinations and treatments, which has been shared through its search and “Best Seller” algorithms.
- The Senate Finance Committee and Special Committee on Aging sent a letter to CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure on Sept. 10, asking that CMS provide the public with more usable and accessible information about vaccination rates among nursing home residents and workers.