By David Goldstein

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – While Congress is debating the new $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, investigative reporter David Goldstein wanted to find out how previous money was spent in LA – and he discovered some surprising results.

The city has received hundreds of millions of federal and state dollars to deal with COVID-related issues. Some you may expect – others you wouldn’t.

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Lamonte Goode is thousands of dollars behind in his rent. The actor and dancer’s work has stopped since the pandemic began. He’s looking for any kind of relief money to help him pay his bills, and was surprised when we told him how we found some of it being spent.

Goldstein: “Do you think that’s a good use of money?”

Goode: “No, that money should be going into people’s pockets.”

We obtained hundreds of pages of invoices showing where the city is spending some COVID relief money.

We found contracts for emergency rental assistance, bills for respirator masks, disinfecting wipes, COVID testing kits – all things you’d expect.

But we also found hundreds of thousands of COVID relief dollars spent on private security guards.

The Department of Animal Services hired some to patrol shelters that weren’t even open to the public. They were closed because of coronavirus.

LAPD hired others to patrol homeless shelters that were temporarily set up in the parks.

We also found thousands spent on cleaning and laundry for the homeless.

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And we came across a contract from Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office: more than $150,000 to Loyola Marymount University “to survey residents to determine their perceptions of the coronavirus”.

All money Goode says he and others could have used.

“People need help,” he said. “People need assistance. It’s your job to help them. Why are you spending money on surveys? It doesn’t make sense.”

The mayor’s office said the survey was done to assess the needs of the community, and it directly informed critical policy decisions and funding allocation.

Animal services said they hired guards to keep the closed facilities secure.

The bottom line is none of what we found is against the rules. And some COVID money can only be spent in certain ways.

Susan Shelley with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association says municipalities should have to justify how they’re spending the money.

“The best we can hope for as taxpayers is full transparency,” said Shelley. “They should be putting out reports and public hearings to explain what they’re doing with the money and if they don’t need the money that they’re not just wasting it.”

The U.S. Treasury Department has given cities permission to use the money on a wide range of issues dealing with the pandemic as long as it covers necessary expenditures.

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The LA Controller’s office posts COVID expenditures on the city’s website here.

David Goldstein