Legislative Audit Finds Significant Waste in Two Wisconsin Coronavirus Grant Programs

by Benjamin Yount


No one really knows just how much of Wisconsin’s nearly $600 million in small business coronavirus grant money was wasted or given to scammers.

The Legislative Audit Bureau on Tuesday released a limited review of the “We’re All In” and “Wisconsin Tomorrow” programs, and confirmed that the state handed out money to ineligible businesses.

“LAB reviewed 172 program grants totaling $4.1 million and found that DOR did not follow its written eligibility requirements when it awarded 45 grants totaling $475,000,” auditors said in their report.

The Audit Bureau reviewed 87 “We’re All In” grants, and found 25 ineligible grants, or 28% of the total. The Audit Bureau reviewed 85 “Wisconsin Tomorrow” grants, and found 20 ineligible grants, or 23.5% of the total.

But auditors are asking people not to do that kind of math for the full $595 million that was handed out.

“Because LAB’s review is not based on a statically valid sample of grants, it is not appropriate to extrapolate the results of the review to all grants that DOR awarded,” auditors asked.

Auditors also stated that they do not know how many of the grants were ineligible or given away to scammers because the state’s Department of Revenue didn’t have proper fraud fighting tools when the grants were handed-out.

“DOR has undertaken certain program integrity efforts to identify fraudulent grant applications and recover grants awarded inappropriately,” auditors noted. “In addition, DOR indicated it was determining the extent to which it may have awarded certain grants in error, and it anticipated undertaking additional efforts to identify and recover such grants.”

Wisconsin gave $5,000 “We’re All In” grants to 36,093 small businesses from December 2020 through April 2021, according to the report. The state also gave $20,000 grants to another 2,023 restaurants and similar entities from December 2020 through January 2021.

There were 60,667 “Wisconsin Tomorrow” grants of $5,000 each between June 2021 through September 2021. The state also handed-out grants of up to $2.0 million each to 970 hotels, motels, or resorts between August 2021 and October 2021.

Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, who sits on the legislature’s Joint Audit Committee said the review is a start.

“Thanks to the important work of LAB and their review of these grants, DOR is now undertaking necessary efforts to identify inappropriate and fraudulent activity targeting these grants. I believe that this effort is going to be a very important element to not only ensure the proper administration of the We’re All In and Wisconsin Tomorrow Grants, but also to potentially kickstart other state agencies to identify and report fraudulent actively in programs they’ve administered with federal COVID relief funds,” Cowles said in a statement.

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Benjamin Yount is a contributor to The Center Square. 




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