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Friday, May 24, 2024
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Lobbyists, politicians upset over city of Madison’s quarterly report

The Institute for Reforming Government launched an investigation after discovering $700,000 of state and local funds were approved to fund services for undocumented immigrants.

Pandemic relief funds set to be issued by the city of Madison are being slammed by right-wing lobbyists and politicians for grant-makers “inappropriate use” of funding in a series of press releases.

The city of Madison received $47.2 million under the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRF) included in the federal American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law in March 2021. The Madison Common Council adopted a resolution in July 2021 to allocate $22.8 million to help support communities within Madison most impacted by the pandemic, according to the Community Development Division

The $22.8 million was allocated to violence prevention and youth engagement, homelessness support, affordable housing, emerging needs and economic development.

Sam Munger, chief of staff for Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, told The Daily Cardinal $700,000 of these funds were allocated to programs for undocumented residents to “help support communities within the city that were most impacted by the pandemic.”

Munger said all uses of funds comply with the provisions in the ARPA legislation as outlined in the U.S. Treasury Final Rule for state and local ARPA funds. The city has submitted quarterly reports to the U.S. Treasury Department detailing the use of ARPA funds since July 2021.

Conservatives, lobbyists respond

Some conservative lobbyist groups, including the Institute for Reforming Government (IRG), strongly opposed the allocation of funds.

“It is troubling to learn that the City of Madison is funneling taxpayer dollars intended to help Wisconsinites to illegal immigrants,” Jake Curtis, IRG general counsel and director of oversight, said in an April 3 press release. “Taxpayers need answers.”

The IRG’s Center for Investigative Oversight (CIO) launched an investigation and found nearly 10% of the city’s SLFRF funds are used to support nonprofits that provide services to undocumented immigrants, which the group said was problematic due to “immigrants being largely ineligible to otherwise receive direct federal or state aid.”

The IRG’s main concerns were with funds being diverted from Wisconsin taxpayers to undocumented immigrants without taxpayers being informed. 

“[Taxpayers] especially deserve to know how sending tax dollars to provide services to illegal immigrants in 2024 was ‘necessary’ in response to and recovery from the ‘COVID-19 public health emergency’ of 2020,” the press release said. 

State Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Cedarburg, issued a press release and a letter to the city’s grant supervisor on April 4. He shared the documents on Twitter, where he called the city’s practices “yet another example of waste and abuse of COVID dollars.” 

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In the press release, Stroebel connected the funding to federal border policy and criticized Madison politicians.

“From the rise in fentanyl seizures at the southern border to the overwhelming of school services in Whitewater to the tragic murder of Laken Riley in Georgia, the immigration crisis is something that is impacting every state, including Wisconsin,” Stroebel said. “The decision to use pandemic relief money to assist illegal immigrants at the expense of Wisconsinites reveals the out of touch priorities of Madison politicians.”

Stroebel’s letter to Dory Rey, Madison grants supervisor, requested information regarding the use of SLFRF funds. This included grant applications from nonprofits that receive SLFRF funding, grant applications to provide services to undocumented immigrants and a breakdown of the $700,000 in question.

Both the press release and the letter intend to uncover how pandemic funds are being used in the city, Stroebel said in the press release. “As a State Senator, it is my responsibility to be a steward of taxpayer dollars and look out for the interest of Wisconsin Families.”

Stroebel was unavailable for further comment.

Funds supported ‘hardest-hit residents’ during pandemic

Leaders of nonprofits supported by ARPA funding said they see value in supporting undocumented immigrants and other at-risk groups from impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said ARPA funding helps emerging needs in the Madison community through supported programming, services and outreach.

“ARPA funding was a vital part of Madison’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its wide-reaching impact on our community,” Rhodes-Conway told the Cardinal. “We are proud of the work our community partners did with this funding and the difference it made with some of our hardest-hit residents and communities.”

According to the city’s 2023 4th Quarter SLFRF Compliance Report, the funding went directly to agencies with established relationships with undocumented residents. This included agencies such as Centro Hispano, Catholic Multicultural Center, African Center for Community Development, Rise WI, Inc., Community Immigration Law Center and The Rainbow Project.

The project plan first submitted in 2021 said funding would go toward making connections between undocumented residents and their basic needs, such as food assistance, transport assistance, utility bills, and connecting residents to legal assistance and employment.

Editors note: This article was updated on April 16th 1:04 p.m to remove a quote that was improperly contributed to the Vera Court Neighborhood Center in Madison.

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