PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Philadelphia controller is not mincing words over a new report released Tuesday showing what she calls questionable spending from the city’s health department during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Most employees do not get the perk of having their employer pay for their rides to and from work,” City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart said.READ MORE: 17-Year-Old Latif Williams Turns Self In For Alleged Murder Of Temple Student Samuel Collington
The Philadelphia Health Department was given emergency spending money during the pandemic, but the report shows that the health department used more than $100,000 in city tax dollars on Uber rides and even parking — items the city controller calls questionable.
“It really seems unnecessary,” Rhynhart said.
Rhynhart released the report on Tuesday showing the city’s Health Department spending more than $19,000 on parking at the start of the pandemic, even though the city’s parking authority was not issuing tickets at the time due to COVID.
“It was supposed to be spent on urgent pandemic-related costs: COVID testing, other urgent costs,” Rhynhart said.
But the report also shows the Health Department spending another $83,188 city tax dollars on Uber rides for 114 city employees and contractors, getting them to and from work during the start of the pandemic.
“I’m sure many people would like to have a free Uber ride to and from work, but that is not acceptable with taxpayer dollars,” Rhynhart said.READ MORE: Off-Duty Police Officer Shot Multiple Times In North Philadelphia, Police Say
The findings are a shock to people like Debra Smith, who Eyewitness News found commuting on the bus to get to work in Fairmount from her home in North Philadelphia.
“If they’re going to give free rides, they should give free rides to everyone,” Smith said. “I wish I was getting a free Uber ride.”
The city’s Health Department didn’t respond to Eyewitness News’ request for an on-camera interview but did respond in the audit saying, in part, “Uber rides for employees were discontinued in July 2020, and there are no plans to offer this service to employees in the future.”
Eyewitness News also asked Mayor Jim Kenney for his response.
“I didn’t see the report and we’ll digest it and comment on it later,” Kenney said.
The mayor’s office released a statement Tuesday afternoon that reads:
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“Given that we just received the results of the audit, we’re currently reviewing it. However, it is important to note that the city moved urgently to allow the Health Department the flexibility to spend early in the pandemic in order to address the unprecedented health crisis because they were doing critical work to save lives. We would also like to note that the procedures the Controller’s Office recommends are what we developed and implemented, prior to the Controller’s recommendation.”
Read the full report here.