Community leaders join Republicans in demanding accountability for how COVID relief money is being used

Hartford

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) – Millions in COVID-19 relief dollars have been given out by cities and towns. The money is for helping the most vulnerable, but a group of community leaders and Republican lawmakers say they’re disturbed by the alleged misuse of COVID relief funds in West Haven, and what they say is a lack of transparency from the governor’s administration.

Now, they’re calling for accountability.

Former West Haven State Representative Michael DiMassa is facing charges of wire fraud for allegedly misusing more than $600,0000 in COVID Cares Act funding. Gwen Samuel, the founder of the Connecticut Parents Union, is angry.

RELATED: State Rep. Michael DiMassa accused of defrauding City of West Haven of more than $630K, resigns from public office

“There should’ve never been a way for that to happen if we had appropriate checks and balances,” Samuel said.

Community Leaders joined Senate Republicans at the Capitol to demand accountability. Bridgette Prince from Veterans for Black Lives Matter held up a picture of Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights leader who visited Hartford and called it the promised land.

“We are here in Hartford Connecticut demanding to know what happened to the Covid relief funds because this is what MLK would have done,” Prince said.

Hartford Reverend Ernestine Holloway says the kids suffer the most. “There’s a whole lot of money so our children should be learning. The laptops disappeared. Half of them didn’t get them. They didn’t work. Who is accountable for this?”

The group claims the governor’s administration hasn’t been transparent about the distribution and management of all the money. Republicans sent a series of letters beginning in October asking questions about the process and asking for a public hearing.

State Senator Kevin Kelly, the Republican Senate Minority Leader, says the Office of Policy and Management staff should sit before the legislature’s Appropriations Committee and explain. “The trust in government has been shattered and the best way to restore that is with swift and strong action.”

Some in the group are blaming local leaders for not including the community in decision-making. Reggie Hales from Hartford said, “When we ask you a specific question, you have an obligation elected official of the city of Hartford, to answer and to follow through.” He was aiming that criticism at the mayor.

At a press conference to announce “Hart-Lift”, which uses $6-million of American Rescue Plan money to help local property owners, Hartford’s Mayor Luke Bronin defended the city’s process.

“My office in the city council adopted [a covid relief plan] as part of the budget process last spring and we’ve had a number of public discussions. We did a public survey prior to that. So there’s been a lot of public engagement, a fully transparent process,” Bronin said.

Lamont’s Office of Policy and Management is doing an independent statewide audit of all CARES ACT money given to every city and town in the wake of the West Haven case. Each community has to follow federal rules and is subject to a separate audit by the U.S. Treasury.

RELATED: Independent firm to audit use of federal CARES Act funding by all CT towns, cities

Meantime, this group of community organizers has a message for the governor. “And when 22 election comes and you let them know if you don’t let us know where that money is you lose your seat,” said Reverand Ernestine Holloway.

Reggie Hales agreed saying, “again if you don’t want to hear us now, hear us at the ballot box.”
Former West Haven State Representative Dimassa is due back in court later this month.

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