Two state-level programs leveraging federal funds appropriated by the $2.2 trillion CARES Act should provide some welcome relief for Oklahomans who experienced financial setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of course, there must be transparency and oversight of all expenditures to ensure these programs produce the positive results intended. Any attempt to conceal or withhold information about the use of up to $110 million of taxpayer funds would tarnish the programs and the image of our state.
Gov. Kevin Stitt announced the new grant programs this past Friday, the first of which will dedicate $10 million for eviction mitigation grants. With the state's unemployment rate ballooning from 2.9% in March to 13.7% in April before settling back to 12.6% in May, there is little doubt about the pandemic's impact on families now dealing with "housing instability and food insecurity."
The eviction mitigation program will reimburse participating nonprofit organizations that make payments to landlords for rental assistance on behalf of program-eligible tenants. Assistance for tenants who qualify for the program will be capped at $3,600 — with initial jobless claims continuing to climb weekly, we hope that suffices.
The second program will provide up to $100 million to Oklahoma businesses that experienced a 25% loss of revenue or greater from January through May compared with the same period in 2019. Businesses and organizations formed under Section 501(c)6 of the federal tax code that can trace a substantial proportion of the loss to the pandemic will be able to apply for grants intended to help them "bridge the gap while they work to get back up to speed ... in terms of operations and revenues."
Both programs are much needed in a time of economic uncertainty the nation has not seen since the Great Depression. The application and qualification procedures appear to provide multiple steps that provide opportunities for oversight and transparency if taxpayers and watchdogs remain vigilant.
Americans learned how quickly transparency can become opaque when Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced there would be no disclosure of details about Paycheck Protection Program loans. An immediate backlash prompted a reversal of a decision that would have hidden from taxpayers information about loans — those could be converted to grants — to nearly 4.7 million small businesses that total $514.5 billion.
We applaud the governor and those who crafted these much-needed programs. Their oversight and transparency will be scrutinized to ensure their effectiveness.