Iowa concealed COVID-19 testing help for well-connected firms

State officials deployed “strike teams” involving the Iowa National Guard to more businesses last year than previously acknowledged.

Records the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) released on April 26 show seventeen workplaces received COVID-19 testing assistance through a strike team. The agency had stated in January that only ten workplaces (operated by nine companies) had strike team visits. Several newly-disclosed events benefited businesses linked to Governor Kim Reynolds’ major campaign donors.

Iowa used the strike teams mostly during the spring of 2020, when COVID-19 testing supplies were scarce. However, a strike team was sent to Iowa Select Farms administrative headquarters in mid-July, more than five weeks after the state had stopped providing testing help to other business. That company’s owners are Reynolds’ largest campaign contributors.

The governor asserted at a January news conference that the state had facilitated coronavirus testing for more than 60 companies, saying no firm was denied assistance. The newly-released records show nineteen businesses received testing kits from the state, and another nineteen were directed to a nearby Test Iowa site where their employees could schedule appointments.

The public health department’s spokesperson Sarah Ekstrand has not explained why she provided incomplete information about the strike team program in January. Nor has she clarified what criteria state officials used to determine which companies received which kind of testing assistance.

The governor’s spokesperson Pat Garrett did not respond to any of Bleeding Heartland’s emails on this subject. Reynolds walked away when I tried to ask her about the strike team decisions at a media gaggle on April 28.

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University of Iowa can't keep utilities deal secrets from auditor

The University of Iowa must comply with a subpoena from State Auditor Rob Sand seeking details on a 50-year deal to lease the university’s utility system to a public-private partnership, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously determined on April 30.

The Iowa Board of Regents approved the arrangement in December 2019 and closed on the deal in March 2020. But the university withheld many details, including the identity of “Iowa-based investors” who supposedly put up about 21.5 percent of the $1.165 billion lump-sum payment to operate the system for the next five decades.

The State Auditor’s office has been trying to enforce Sand’s subpoena since January 2020. The university and Board of Regents insisted they did not have to provide “confidential” information and disputed the validity of the subpoena.

None of the Supreme Court justices found the university’s stance convincing.

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Iowa turned down $95 million to test school kids for COVID-19

Governor Kim Reynolds revealed on April 29 that she is sending back $95 million in federal funds designated for testing students for COVID-19.

During a Fox News event featuring Republican governors, Reynolds said of President Joe Biden,

I think he thinks the COVID just started. I just returned 95 million dollars because they sent an additional 95 million dollars to the state of Iowa to get our kids back in the classroom by doing surveillance testing. And I said, “We’ve been in the classroom since August. Here’s your 95 million dollars back.”

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Exclusive: ISU accounting issues still delaying state financial report

Editor’s note from Laura Belin: The Governmental Accounting Standards Board and the Government Finance Officers Association now discourage use of the common acronym for this report, because when pronounced it sounds like a racial slur. Bleeding Heartland will avoid using the acronym in the future. Original post follows.

Challenges in obtaining auditable financial data from Iowa State University continue to delay the publication of the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) covering the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2020. The Iowa Department of Administrative Services compiles the CAFR and typically publishes it by December 31. The latest edition has been held up because ISU was unable to submit its year-end financial data on the usual timetable.

The university switched to using the Workday computer system for accounting at the start of the 2020 fiscal year. While Iowa’s public universities have long sent year-end data to the Department of Administrative by October 1, ISU is still working on some “supplemental pieces” six months later.

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Rob Sand drops a hint

As fundraising emails go, the message State Auditor Rob Sand’s campaign sent around 10:00 am on March 20 was nothing special. It began this way:

Even though it’s an off-year for us, it is still important to show our campaign is viably powered and the supported choice to move Iowa forward.

While re-election is still many months away, our campaign is already hard at work building the critical infrastructure needed to ensure re-election.

A “corrected” version arrived about an hour and 20 minutes later.

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