Governor Kristi Noem waited until October to launch her headline program of welfare checks to businesses and non-profits economically harmed by the coronavirus pandemic. She was quick to give international consultants Guidehouse $6 million to administer the program for her (since she’s too busy traveling to waste time governing). But that big-money privatization isn’t moving CARES Act relief dollars very fast into the pockets of suffering businesses:
The $450 million program, which the Legislature endorsed, promised to give a boost to small businesses that could show a downturn from last year.
…The Bureau of Finance and Management has reported that just 16%, or 951 out of 5,912, small businesses, startups and nonprofits that applied have received a total of about $86 million.
…Liza Clark, commissioner of the Bureau of Finance and Management, told lawmakers in November that many businesses had not answered emails requesting to fix errors in their applications and worried that emails could have been lost in their spam folders.
But Brie Korkow, who operates a rodeo business near Pierre, said she diligently checked her email and began calling the program’s helpline every few days for updates. She had to make a few corrections to her application that she felt should have been easy to catch by a better-designed process.
Other business owners, such as Karen Johnson who operates a bed and breakfast in Sioux Falls, said they were asked to correct errors that they had not made [Stephen Groves, “Business Owners Frustrated at Pace of Coronavirus Grants,” AP, 2020.12.30].
It used to be that the government could spend six million dollars and get better, stronger, faster workers. But under the Noem Administration, six million dollars gets us a sixth of the work in the allotted time (the original plan was to have all those CARES Act dollars out the door rendering aid and comfort to thousands of South Dakota firms by yesterday, the deadline Congress set in March for spending all state aid, and the deadline that would have stayed in place if lame-duck Trump had stuck to his guns and vetoed the new coronavirus relief bill).
If there was any argument for privatizing the distribution of CARES Act relief, it was that those high-priced private sector consultants could process thousands of applications and move hundreds of millions of dollars more efficiently than state workers in Pierre. Evidently at Guidehouse, that’s not the case. Hmm… maybe we’d have gotten faster service from state employees who’ve dedicated their careers to public service in South Dakota rather than a corporation whose minions answer to corporate bosses elsewhere.