Pandemic funds used to hire parking cops, pay for prisons, build hotels. At a time when many residents were struggling due to job losses and loss of business, the District of Columbia ramped up efforts to wring money out of them—and spent federal pandemic aid to do so.

The city spent $2.5 million in federal relief funds to hire more parking cops, according to new reporting from the Associated Press.

Alas, D.C. is far from the only jurisdiction that used money meant to help people to police them instead.

For instance, the city of Los Angeles received $639,450,464 from the American Rescue Plan last year and spent 50 percent of it on Los Angeles Police Department payroll, according to Kenneth Meija, an accountant running for L.A. Comptroller.

In cities around the country, pandemic relief funds went to either ordinary police costs or to increase policing capabilities—sometimes in questionable ways.

"Albuquerque spent $3 million on a gunshot tracking system that isn't actually effective," notes Mic. "Honolulu bought its cops a $150,000 robot dog to monitor unhoused populations. In Wisconsin, Republican lawmakers pushed to use federal funds to create $5,000 signing bonuses to recruit new officers."


Police spending is only one way cities misused pandemic funds:

Thanks to a sudden $140 million cash infusion, officials in Broward County, Florida, recently broke ground on a high-end hotel that will have views of the Atlantic Ocean and an 11,000-square-foot spa.

In New York, Dutchess County pledged $12 million for renovations of a minor league baseball stadium to meet requirements the New York Yankees set for their farm teams.

And in Massachusetts, lawmakers delivered $5 million to pay off debts of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate in Boston, a nonprofit established to honor the late senator that has struggled financially.

The three distinctly different outlays have one thing in common: Each is among the scores of projects that state and local governments across the United States are funding with federal coronavirus relief money despite having little to do with combating the pandemic, a review by The Associated Press has found.

The expenditures amount to a fraction of the $350 billion made available through last year's American Rescue Plan to help state and local governments weather the crisis. But they are examples of uses of the aid that are inconsistent with the rationale that Democrats offered for the record $1.9 trillion bill: The cash was desperately needed to save jobs, help those in distress, open schools and increase vaccinations.

Pandemic relief funds also went to building new prisons (Alabama), remodeling a City Hall (Woonsocket, Rhode Island), overhauling a tourism website (Alexandria, Virginia), golf course irrigation systems (Colorado Springs), and a museum to honor cyclist Major Taylor (Worcester, Massachusetts).

A number of cities and states have used funds to purchase "gunshot detection" tech. It  isn't actually effective, but cities and state are still spending millions in pandemic relief funds on ShotSpotter devices.

"Officials in some jurisdictions have been nothing short of gleeful over the prospect of using pandemic relief funds to expand carceral infrastructure," notes The Appeal:

In February, administrators of the Oklahoma County Jail were caught on a voicemail recording calling COVID-19 "our friend" and "the greatest thing that has ever happened to us." The jail had already received $10 million in federal funding under the 2020 CARES Act, and during the recorded conversation officials expressed hope that they'd receive "another $150 million" from ARPA. More than a dozen people died in the custody of the Oklahoma County Jail in 2021, and several more have died so far this year.

Keep all this in mind when the Biden administration and federal lawmakers talk about needing to dole out more money to help with pandemic-related problems (or high gas prices, or climate issues, or whatever the current crisis/excuse might be). These are effectively programs to make politicians look good, not to funnel funds to where they're actually needed.


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