The South Dakota Democratic Party is calling for oversight of Gov. Kristi Noem’s plans to spend federal coronavirus relief funds, stating the party is “horrified” over the governor’s lack of transparency and decision-making behind the distribution of the CARES Act money.
On Tuesday, Noem’s administration announced they are spending $5 million of the CARES Act coronavirus relief funds on tourism ads that feature the governor, even though South Dakota is one of the nation’s top hot spots for COVID-19 infections.
45 Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the state House of Representatives have signed a letter requesting a special session to prioritize the spending of the COVID-19 related funds.
South Dakota received $1.25 billion through the CARES Act funding, some of which has been spent unemployment assistance, aid to city and local governments and state education, including an additional $75 million in funding, Noem announced last week.
“The lack of oversight and accountability should be troubling to everyone, regardless of party affiliation. Lawmakers have requested a special session for exactly this reason. $1.25 billion in taxpayer dollars should be used wisely to address the needs of South Dakotans,” said Randy Seiler, Chair of the South Dakota Democratic Party.
A special session has been proposed with a listening session so businesses and individuals can share the struggles they’re experiencing now and what they see as their greatest challenges in the future. The restaurant industry has been hit especially hard by COVID-19 and many retailers across the state are struggling to survive.
“The CARES Act was specifically designed to help people and businesses struggling during the pandemic. As it stands, the governor is ignoring the needs of South Dakotans. She is by-passing the legislature and simply dictating the use of the funds,” said Pam Cole, Executive Director of SDDP.
This week’s revelation that Noem continues to spend the dollars without any input from South Dakota lawmakers or the public clarifies the need for a special session. Noem announced additional funds for South Dakota students on Sept. 3, but Democratic leadership believes help arrived too late, according to a press release from the party.
“As the school year approached, I witnessed social posts from teachers looking for donations of hand sanitizer, masks, Clorox wipes, and sharing ideas on how to create barriers to protect their students at a minimal cost. Our schools should have had more funding earlier. Teachers shouldn’t have to beg for supplies to protect our children,” said Nikki Gronli, Vice Chair of SDDP.