ABINGTON, Pa. (CBS) — Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration is under fire for how the city is spending a small part of a big federal grant meant for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. Members of City Council are also concerned.
A group called the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium is calling out Philadelphia’s Health Department for leaving them out of what could have been major funding.
“African-Americans are dying at higher rates than any other group,” said Dr. Ala Stanford with the consortium.
The group has been working to test underserved communities in Montgomery County, as well as in Philadelphia, for the past two months.
The consortium wants to soon perform contact tracing, or finding people who may have been in contact with an infected person. But to do that, it needs to hire a lot more people and that costs money it doesn’t have.
“I hope that the city and the state and the federal government will support in larger numbers,” Stanford said.
It turns out Philadelphia does have some money. During Wednesday’s budget hearing, the city’s health department announced it received $92 million for testing, contact tracing and other COVID-19-related expenses to be used over the next two-and-a-half years.
The money came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We’re in a real hurry to get contact tracing up and running,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said.
But the health department also revealed it’s giving a small part of that tax money to two groups the city already has contracts with for administrative duties and hiring, leaving City Council out of the budget process.
“I think there would have been more transparency with that contract like we normally do business,” Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke said.
Other councilmembers pointed out the health department should have opened up public bids.
“They amended an existing contract they already had, they did not need council approval. So we did not find out about this $92 million until the public hearing yesterday,” said Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson. “Without giving other businesses the opportunity to bid, it’s wrong.”
And some believe the consortium should have been considered for part of the federal tax money.
“The time is now,” Councilmember Cherelle Parker said.
The Philadelphia Health Department told Eyewitness News the contracts for the work are still being negotiated, so they couldn’t exactly say how much of the $92 million in federal tax dollars those two groups may be receiving. But they did say it was small and much quicker than putting out a bid.