Budget & Tax

Ray Carter | January 25, 2021

Federal COVID funding in Oklahoma far exceeding actual need

Ray Carter

When the COVID-19 pandemic first began sweeping the country, Congress responded by approving in March 2020 a huge package of bailout funding for state governments via the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

But roughly 10 months later, millions of dollars remain unspent in Oklahoma because the anticipated need never materialized, including at the state’s health care and education entities.

The CARES Act included an increase in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) used to calculate federal matching funds for state Medicaid programs, which funneled millions more in federal funding to states to pay for COVID-19 related health needs.

But Oklahoma Health Care Authority CEO Kevin Corbett informed lawmakers that those expenses have not appeared in the volume anticipated.

“I will tell you today that those needs have not necessarily presented themselves in the manner in which the COVID response or the COVID FMAP was intended,” Corbett said. “In other words, we haven’t seen the level of utilization equal to the amount of support that we have received, so that has obviously increased our level of cash reserves.”

Millions of health care and education dollars remain unspent in Oklahoma.

In a normal year, the agency maintains about $80 million in cash reserves. Currently, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority has $217 million in cash reserves, primarily as the result of unspent federal COVID-19 bailout funds.

Corbett told members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services that increased demand for those funds could still appear due to COVID-19, but “we haven’t seen the utilization at this point.”

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority is the second major agency to publicly acknowledge a surplus of unused federal COVID-19 funding.

Earlier this month, officials from the Oklahoma State Department of Education reported that just $46 million of $144 million in CARES Act funding directed to K-12 schools had been expended by the middle of the ongoing school year.

Even as those millions remain unspent, a far larger infusion of federal “emergency” funding is headed to schools as the result of the December passage of additional bailout funding. An analysis by the Southern Regional Education Board estimated that Oklahoma will receive another $660.7 million in new federal funding for state school districts, although the Oklahoma State Department of Education could retain 10 percent of that amount.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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