Rocky Mount-based foundation unclear how $83 million in COVID loans were spent ::

– Tuesday’s announcement comes after a state auditor’s report said the Golden LEAF Foundation failed to track how companies spent the millions of taxpayer dollars it distributes.

A spokesperson for Golden LEAF said the organization is not responsible for verifying how companies have used the millions of pandemic relief money it has distributed. But now the foundation claims it doesn’t even know who got the loans.

In May 2020, North Carolina established a COVID-19 relief fund for businesses affected by the pandemic using $3.6 billion in federal funds. The state also created the NC Pandemic Recovery Office to find organizations to help by donating money to those in need.

One such organization was the Golden LEAF Foundation in Rocky Mount, which received $83 million to distribute in the form of small business loans.

“We found that Golden LEAF did not follow up to ensure companies were spending the money on allowable expenses,” Wood said.

In a report released last week, the state auditor general’s office said Golden LEAF did not require companies that had obtained loans to show how they spent the money or to audit independently how the loans were used.

“There was a waiting list,” Wood said. “So if you don’t make sure the companies that got the money spend it on the right things, there’s no way to stop the money or call it back and then give it to the companies that are on the waiting list.

In a response to the audit, Golden LEAF said the law only required the foundation to obtain a personal attestation from each company, which was essentially a promise that the company would use the money for its intended purpose. Golden Leaf also said it does not require expense reports, as it is not normal practice for small business loans.

“That’s not true, and I think their response is weak and inadequate,” Wood said. “These funds that are meant to help these small businesses are taxpayers’ money. I don’t care how you see it…to say that’s not normal practice – of course it is.”

WRAL News has requested a list of all the companies Golden LEAF has provided loans to, as well as companies on the waiting list. In a response, Golden LEAF said the foundation does not have a list of who applied for or obtained the $83 million in loans.

“I’m surprised to hear that they just said that blatantly, but obviously they really don’t know how the money was spent, and I’m not surprised they don’t know at all. who he went given their response to our audit report,” Wood said.

The foundation said it partnered with another organization, The NC Rural Center, to provide the loan money. The group should provide Golden LEAG with data on who the money has been given to at regular intervals.

A spokesperson for the NC Rural Center said the center “stores all relevant application materials and loan documents submitted by the program’s eight partner lenders.”

“Throughout the duration of the program, the rural center has provided the Golden LEAF Foundation with regular reports outlining the overall status, activity and results of the program for monitoring purposes,” the center said in a statement. communicated.

Because the program provides loans, not grants, the NC Rural Center spokesperson said reports submitted to Golden LEAF use unique business identifiers to maintain confidentiality.

James V. Hayes