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Tennessee hires accounting firm to help with $7B COVID funds

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Lee Administration will pay $250,000 to private accounting firm the Horne Group to help it handle more than $7 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds, the Daily Memphian reported.

The national firm with offices in Memphis, Nashville and Jackson will be responsible for setting a strategy for how to spend the COVID-19 funding and ensuring all expenses comply with federal rules. CARES Act money must be spent, not just obligated, by the end of 2020.

About two-thirds of the federal money is already dedicated to programs that include federal unemployment relief and TennCare. But the state has more discretion over the other $2.3 billion. Of that, nearly $1 billion is going to the unemployment insurance trust fund. Another $215 million is going toward small business relief, with checks scheduled to start going out in the next week.

Another $280 million will go toward payroll expenses for health and safety employees. Those salaries were already part of the state's $39.45 billion budget, so the funds will be set aside in reserve, adding to some $4 billion the state has stored.

Initially, Tennessee set aside $1 billion of the CARES Act money to replace lost revenue, but the federal government has not allowed that type of spending.

Tennessee may also use the Horne Group to help administer grant programs and provide additional consulting. Additional payments would be based on the state's consulting fees rate with a cap set on payments.

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