The Philadelphia Department of Public Health spent almost $100,000 on Uber costs for city employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, which City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart said was “unnecessary” overspending of taxpayer money.
According to a Nov. 16 report from Rhynhart, the Department of Public Health spent $83,000 on Uber commuting for city employees and contractors, in addition to $19,000 on parking costs from March to September 2020. The money, intended for “emergency purchases during the COVID-19 pandemic,” was misused, according to Rhynhart. The Department of Public Health spent $95,925 more than what its budget permitted.
“[The money] was supposed to be spent on urgent pandemic-related costs: [COVID-19] testing, other urgent costs,” Rhynhart said in a statement to CBS Philly. “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.”
On Nov. 16, the mayor’s office released a statement saying that the results of the controller's findings are being reviewed, but that there were unique circumstances that caused the unusual spending.
“It is important to note that the city moved urgently to allow [DPH] 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,” the mayor’s office wrote in the statement.
The report also found that $1.1 million had been wrongly distributed in sick benefits in the 2020 fiscal year across all city departments.
Twenty-six of City Hall’s 27 departments didn't properly enforce the sick leave policy, resulting in $1.1 million of sick benefits being distributed to employees who were ineligible to receive them, according to the report. Though the overspending occurred from July 2019 to June 2020, the report alleges that the mismanagement of city funds has occurred for several years.
According to Rhynhart, the responsibility for this overspending lies with Rob Dubow, the city's chief financial officer, whose office failed to supervise the spending of various city departments.
The findings of the report show that Dubow’s office fell short of fulfilling its responsibility to “protect taxpayer money from waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement,” Ryhnhart said.