Five unanswered questions about Iowa governor's staff salary payments

Governor Kim Reynolds has defended her decision to use nearly $450,000 in federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to pay salaries and benefits for her permanent staffers.

But her comments at a September 16 news conference, along with information her staff provided to some reporters afterwards, left several salient questions unanswered.

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Exclusive: Iowa governor used CARES Act funds to pay staff salaries

Governor Kim Reynolds directed that nearly $450,000 in federal funding the state of Iowa received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act be used to cover salaries and benefits for staff working in her office.

According to documents Bleeding Heartland obtained from the Iowa Department of Management through public records requests, the funds will cover more than 60 percent of the compensation for 21 employees from March 14 through June 30, 2020.

Reynolds has not disclosed that she allocated funds for that purpose, and reports produced by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency have not mentioned any CARES Act funding received by the governor’s office. Nor do any such disbursements appear on a database showing thousands of state government expenditures under the CARES Act.

The governor’s communications director Pat Garrett did not respond to four requests for comment over a two-week period.

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Governor's health policy adviser claims ignorance about Medicaid problems

Service cuts to Iowans with disabilities under privatized Medicaid prompted a 2017 lawsuit, became a central theme of the 2018 governor’s race, and were a featured problem in an annual report from the state ombudsman.

Yet in a meeting with advocates last week, Governor Kim Reynolds’ health policy adviser said she is unaware of major problems for patients trying to obtain essential services.

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Questions and answers: Jerry Foxhoven's wrongful termination claim

Former Iowa Department of Human Services director Jerry Foxhoven revealed more details about his wrongful termination claim on August 1. He asserts that he was fired after expressing concern about the DHS continuing to pay a large share of the salary for the governor’s deputy chief of staff, Paige Thorson.

As Bleeding Heartland reported last week, Thorson worked extensively on Medicaid-related issues for some time, but she became less involved with the DHS this spring, as Governor Kim Reynolds brought on a new health policy adviser.

Foxhoven and his attorney Tom Duff released a written statement and answered many follow-up questions during a 45-minute news conference. Radio Iowa posted the full audio. The questions and answers below are not a transcript from the conference, but rather my effort to put information about Foxhoven’s case in context for readers.

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Jerry Foxhoven to claim wrongful termination, retaliation

Jerry Foxhoven will pursue legal action claiming retaliation and wrongful termination as director of the Iowa Department of Human Services, Ryan Foley was first to report for the Associated Press on July 31. His attorney, Tom Duff, told the AP

that Foxhoven objected to a request to continue to have his agency fund most of the salary of the governor’s deputy chief of staff, Paige Thorson. Duff says that Foxhoven believed the arrangement made sense when he approved it in 2018. But he said that, by June, Foxhoven believed Thorson was no longer furthering the agency’s interests.

Duff plans to release a more detailed statement at an August 1 news conference, his office told Iowa reporters today.

As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, Thorson had handled health policy for the governor’s office since late 2017, but Governor Kim Reynolds brought Liz Matney over from the DHS this spring to be her health policy advisor.

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