RI lawmakers to review emergency spending for field hospitals, PPE

Politics - Government

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s top legislative leaders announced Tuesday a new joint task force has been formed to review the state’s emergency spending during the coronavirus pandemic.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said in a news release that the task force would be “examining the Raimondo administration’s commitment of more than $100 million in emergency spending,” to include the contracts for field hospitals and the purchases of medical equipment and personal protective equipment.

The first meeting of the task force will be April 30, but it’s not yet clear if it will be in person or virtual. Senate spokesperson Greg Pare said the details are still being worked out.

“I think that Governor Raimondo has been doing an exemplary job in her handling of this public health crisis,” Ruggerio said in a statement. “At the same time, it is our obligation to provide appropriate oversight of the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal relief aid being expended to address the pandemic.”

The 10 legislators appointed to the task force are Sens. William Conley, Erin Lynch Prata, Josh Miller, Tom Paolino and Susan Sosnowski; and Reps. Marvin Abney, Jason Knight, John Lyle, Alex Marszalkowski and Patricia Serpa.

All are Democrats except for Paolino and Lyle, who are Republicans.

Mattiello said the group would be “narrowly focused” on the spending decisions made during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rhode Island has been awarded over $1 billion in federal grants to deal with COVID-19, topped by a flat $1.25 billion payment from the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund arriving this month.

Three field hospitals have been set up by the state to anticipate a potential surge in cases, and Gov. Raimondo announced Tuesday that masks the state ordered have arrived, bringing the total to about 2 million masks on hand.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that even in a crisis, proper light is shed on the expenditure of public funds,” Mattiello said.

The General Assembly has not met in weeks, and still needs to tackle the budget for the upcoming year. It’s not yet clear when lawmakers will return to Smith Hill or potentially meet remotely.

Separately on Tuesday, the House Republican caucus sent a letter asking the House Oversight Committee to begin holding hearings on a range of issues related to the administration’s handling of COVID-19, from the use of federal funding to various emergency orders promulgated by the governor.

“This letter is not to say we agree or disagree with the decisions of the governor,” the GOP lawmakers wrote in their letter. “Rather, this type of immense authority — the ability to make and enforce law — must never reside unchecked in one person.”

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

Ted Nesi contributed to this report.

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