Shining the Light on COVID-19 Relief Funds for Arkansas

by Mavuto Kalulu, Assistant Professor of Economics

According to the Pew Research Center article, “Public Trust in Government: 1958-2022,” published on June 6, 2022, only two in ten Americans trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always.”  The seemingly good news for state governments is that people trust their state and local governments more than the federal government says authors John O’Leary, Angella Welle, and Sushumna Agarwal, in another article “Improving Trust in State and Local Government,” published by Deloitte on September 22, 2021. 

Transparency is a crucial ingredient in ensuring that people trust their government. As stewards of public resources, public officials are expected to be transparent on how they use public resources, whether from federal, state, or local government sources. That is the point Joyce Ajayi makes in her op-ed “Be Transparent: How Were COVID Funds used in State.”   In the op-ed published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on September 24, Joyce Ajayi explains that Arkansas has received over $8 billion in COVID-19 relief funds from a combination of funding portfolios from several federal laws passed to address the pandemic. The $8 billion is equivalent to writing a check of over $2,600 to every Arkansan. 

Ajayi questions how transparent Arkansas has been with COVID-19 funds. Such questions and concerns are not in a vacuum. Research conducted by the Arkansas Center for Research in Economics (ACRE) scholars reveals that some states have been transparent with COVID-19 funds providing their residents with detailed information on how these funds were spent. Joyce Ajayi points to States such as Idaho, Alabama, Missouri, and Tennessee as exemplars.

How did Arkansas fare when compared to the states mentioned above? Not so well. Ajayi rightly concludes that:

“Failing to track the influx of funds weakens the efficiency of the efforts invested in the crisis response and can also result in corruption, which puts the administration of these taxpayer dollars at risk of misuse. Some portion of the COVID-19 relief funds could be lost to corruption if state and local governments do not ensure that the transparency of the entire process is maintained.”

In other words, as discussed earlier, a lack of transparency breeds distrust in the government. 

So, what does Arkansas need to do to promote trust in the government? The simple answer is to emulate what states such as Idaho, Alabama, Missouri, and Tennessee have done and adhere to Ajayi’s recommendation to

 “Utilize open data initiatives like transparency websites and other online technology to provide accountability for using the funds.” 

For more on this topic, read ACRE’s research:

Coronavirus Relief Fund Reporting: How States are Promoting Transparency

COVID Relief Done Right: A Local Government Transparency Guide for Following the One-Time Influx of Funds by