An internal government watchdog is looking into whether Florida misused federal funds to pay for migrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, last month under a program backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation asked the Treasury Department's Office of Inspector General last month to determine whether Florida improperly paid for the flights with money from the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, which was created by legislation on Capitol Hill.
In a letter Friday that was made public Wednesday, Richard K. Delmar, the Treasury Department's deputy inspector general, told Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and four House members from the state that the office had reached out to Florida seeking details about its use of the federal funds through general oversight and “has audit work planned on recipients’ compliance with eligible use guidance."
Delmar said the office planned to conduct the audit work “as quickly as possible” while noting that legislative and judicial challenges tied to the fund and its use for immigration-related purposes could affect the scope and timing of the review.
A Chicago-based network of migrant-led organizations and migrants who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard under Florida’s program sued in September alleging that the money DeSantis used for the program was unauthorized because it “originated from the federal Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund and was therefore subject to its use restrictions.”
The federal program, a component of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed by Congress in March 2021, provides $350 billion to state and local governments to boost recovery efforts from the pandemic.
Delmar also said the inspector general’s office would review what restrictions are in place for using the money, including interest earned, for immigration-related activities.
Politico reported Delmar's letter earlier Wednesday.
Markey, who was among the group that signed on to the Sept. 16 letter demanding a probe, applauded the inspector general in a statement Wednesday.
“For the sake of the migrants who were lured onto charter planes under false pretenses, and for the commendable Commonwealth residents who rallied together to offer support, I hope that this investigation sheds light on whether Governor DeSantis misused funds that were intended for COVID relief for Floridians,” Markey said.
DeSantis has insisted that no laws were broken and pledged to continue his administration’s $12 million program to relocate migrants.
Taryn Fenske, a spokesperson for DeSantis, said in a statement Wednesday that "weeks ago" the state's Office of Policy and Budget had discussed with the watchdog the use of interest earned from the federal program to transport migrants.
"OPB articulated to Treasury’s OIG that our use of this interest, as appropriated by the Florida Legislature, is permissible," Fenske said, citing compliance requirements. "Reviews by Treasury are typical and, as stated by the OIG, are ‘part of its oversight responsibilities.’”
NBC News has asked the Treasury Department for comment.