Iowa invests $21 million in COVID-19 aid to state computer system

(TNS) – Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds transferred $21 million earmarked for coronavirus relief from Iowa to help pay for a computer system already being developed before the pandemic.

As of July 31, Reynolds has transferred $627.3 million of the $1.25 billion in federal funds Iowa has secured through the CARES Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which passed. by Congress in March, the Legislative Services Agency reported Wednesday.

One of the most recent transfers was $91 million to the Office of the Chief Information Officer for technology upgrades. This includes $50 million to fund grants to expand broadband services in Iowa, which could be connected to the pandemic due to the large number of Iowans working, learning and getting health care from home via the Internet. .

But also $21 million to help the state replace its budget, accounting, and social services computer system with a cloud computing system from Workday.

“Using CARES Act money to fund a payroll and a financial IT system for the state seems like a stretch,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, of Iowa City, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. of the Iowa Senate.

Asked Thursday morning how the transfer fits within the CARES Act, a spokesperson for Reynolds did not provide one or respond to a follow-up later in the day.

The state signed contracts in October and February to pay Workday $50 million over five years for the new system, skipping traditional bidding procedures and choosing a company whose lobbyist, Jake Ketzner, was Reynolds’ former chief of staff.

When The Gazette in March detailed the unusual route taken by the state to reach a Workday contract, the governor’s office said Ketzner was not involved in the deal.

Reynolds originally planned to fund the annual payment to Workday with money from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund, Bolkcom said. But because that fund is fueled by gaming revenue from state-licensed casinos in Iowa, which were shut down for 11 weeks due to COVID-19, there wasn’t enough money for expenses. from Workday.

CARES Act funds are meant to be used to “cover costs that are necessary expenses incurred as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency that were not previously accounted for in the most recently approved budget on March 27. “, reported the nonpartisan legislative agency in its Wednesday budget memo.

These expenditures could include a direct response to COVID-19, such as medical or public health needs, or “second-order effects of the emergency, such as providing economic support to those suffering from disruptions in employment or activity due to business closures due to COVID-19”. ”

CARES Act funding cannot be used “to make up for lost state revenue resulting from the economic impacts of COVID-19,” but can be used for temporary cash flow.

“I don’t know how, looking at Treasury Department guidelines, how this suddenly becomes pandemic-related,” Bolkcom said of the Workday transfer.

Sen. Claire Celsi, D-Des Moines, said she doesn’t want the state to have to repay the federal government $21 million if the federal government decides Iowa didn’t spend the money properly. of the CARES Act.

State Auditor Rob Sand, a Democrat elected to the state spending review post, plans to ask the governor’s office about the Workday transfer, spokesman Andrew Turner said Thursday in an e-mail. mail.

“Our office is aware of the transfer and we have questions,” he said.

Bolkcom said he would rather see coronavirus relief money pay for things like hazard pay for teachers or personal protective equipment that schools must buy before classes start. Reynolds requires all school districts in Iowa to provide at least half of the core subject instructional time in person, unless a family opts for virtual learning.

Coy Marquardt, associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, said districts could use state assistance to pay for masks and face shields as well as technology to facilitate virtual learning.

“It’s definitely a significant cost. It’s a necessary cost,” Marquardt said. “That’s one of the other things the association has pushed at the federal level. In the next round of stimulus, more funding for public schools.

©2020 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa). Distributed by Content Agency Tribune, LLC.

Gordon K. Morehouse