One of the problems with keeping track of sports and other subsidies during a pandemic is that a national crisis isn’t really a great time for accountability. At a time when the priority is — rightly — on getting money into people’s hands as fast as possible, laws tend to be passed willy-nilly with little oversight; that’s doubly true with an administration in Washington that seems determined to merge the two opposite meanings of “oversight.” And even if it’s a small percentage of people who take advantage, when you’re talking about a couple trillion dollars in spending, a billion here, a billion there, it starts to add up.
When it was announced in July that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers owners were getting $10.4 million in federal CARES Act cash to pay for everything from touchless ticket scanners to new traffic cones so they could host fans at games this fall, I started digging into where exactly the money was coming from. As the CARES Act itself is crazy long and contains dozens upon dozens of spending provisions, I started by setting out to find out which pool of money, exactly, the Bucs’ cash was coming from. My circuitous research route led me to:
- The Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, which oversees grants to help communities respond to Covid. Got the answer back quickly: Nope, wasn’t them.
- Hillsborough County, whose press office spent a bunch of time digging into it before confirming that the money came straight from the U.S. Treasury, with no intervening federal agency.
- This Treasury Department document, which helpfully notes a total of $256,847,065.00 allocated to Hillsborough County (out of a nationwide allocation of more than $130 billion), but no breakdown of individual grants.
- Back to the county, which informed me that on May 6 the board of commissioners approved CARES Act spending in the amount of: workforce training $30 million; accelerated business recovery $100 million; life/safety programs $145 million; and $10 million in a “contigency” slush fund. The stadium money was included as part of the life/safety spending.
So we’re left with the federal government having sent a quarter of a billion dollars to the county government for pretty much whatever it pleases, and the county saying, Sure, $10 million for a football stadium, that counts as “life/safety.” It’s the sort of thing that normally you’d hope would trigger a bunch of big flashing warning lights, but as Phil Mattera of Good Jobs First, which is tracking Covid spending, notes, “The Trump Administration is paying little attention to how CARES Act funds are being spent or the track record of the companies receiving the aid.”
It’s also the sort of thing that’s only likely to encourage more sports team owners and stadium operators to line up for aid, and oh hey lookit this from yesterday:
The Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners approved over $4 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding to add Covid-19 safety procedures at Amalie Arena and George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.
Life during wartime is rough, but it can also a great time to grab fistfuls of money and run.