Georgia Estimated ARRA Funds

Stimulus oversight requires diligence

By Kristi E. Swartz
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The $6.35 billion in federal stimulus money that is flowing into Georgia may require the establishment of a state office to make sure the dollars wind up where they’re supposed to, state officials say.

Gov. Sonny Perdue is pondering a new state authority to track federal Recovery Act money, a governor’s spokesman said, even though the state already has had four agencies working on a monitoring program since February.

Members of those agencies —- the state auditor, inspector general, accounting and planning and budget —- will meet with Perdue over the next few weeks to further explore the idea, spokesman Chris Schrimpf said.

The need for a new oversight office was underscored in a federal audit, released last week, which determined that Georgia’s resources for tracking stimulus money “continue to be limited.” The audit reported that both the state auditor and inspector general want to hire more people to keep track of the federal funds.

The state auditor’s office, which has assigned 140 people to audit stimulus money through fiscal 2011, said it will need incremental staff additions in coming years.

According to the report, released by the Government Accounting Office, state auditor Russell Hinton will need seven more workers to help with audits for fiscal 2009, 16 more for fiscal 2010 and 10 more for fiscal 2011.

Two of the four workers in the state inspector general’s office have some oversight of stimulus funds, the report said, but inspector general Elizabeth Archer wants to hire five more people.

In addition to making sure agencies are complying with Recovery Act guidelines and reviewing how funds are being spent, the inspector general’s office would review contracts tied to stimulus money and investigate allegations that money was being misspent, the report said.

How the state would fund the new stimulus tracking office is unclear. The federal Office of Management and Budget has guidelines on how stimulus money can be spent for administrative purposes and a bill is pending in Congress on how to track stimulus money, Schrimpf said.

The state has opened a Recovery Act Web site with a searchable database for the money each agency has received or expects to receive. Consumer advocates say that, combined with other efforts, is a strong step in the right direction. But they want more.

“We have much work ahead to gain a level of confidence that all of the i’s have been dotted and the t’s crossed,” said Angela Speir Phelps, deputy director of Georgia Watch, one of the groups that created the Georgia Stimulus Transparency and Accountability Coalition.

The state has started using an automated system to track jobs created or saved because of stimulus money, according to the federal audit, which is the second such report released since funds were first disbursed.

The Web-based system is a data warehouse that state agencies have already been using to report on other federal money they have been allocated, said state accounting officer Greg Griffin. Using that system as a model, the state re-created another one for federal stimulus money.

Griffin declined to provide a figure for the number of jobs that have been created with stimulus dollars, stating that not every agency has begun using the data warehouse


Georgia – July 8, 2009

The content below was excerpted from the Georgia Appendix (PDF, 45 pages) of GAO’s second bimonthly review of the Recovery Act.[1]

Use of Funds

GAO’s work focused on nine federal programs, selected primarily because they have begun disbursing funds to states. The programs include existing programs receiving significant amounts of Recovery Act funds or significant increases in funding, and new programs. Program funds are being directed to helping Georgia stabilize its budget and support local governments, particularly school districts, and several are being used to expand existing programs. Funds from some of these programs are intended for disbursement through states or directly to localities. The funds include the following:

Funds Made Available as a Result of Increased Medicaid Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP)

As of June 29, 2009, Georgia had received more than $541 million in increased FMAP grant awards, of which it had drawn down about $498 million, or 92 percent. Georgia officials reported they are using funds made available as a result of the increased FMAP to offset the state budget deficit. State officials also reported they are planning to use these funds to cover the state’s increased caseload, to maintain current Medicaid populations and benefits, and avoid cuts to eligibility, pending state approval to do so.[2]

Highway Infrastructure Investment Funds

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) apportioned $932 million in Recovery Act funds to Georgia. As of June 25, 2009, the federal government’s obligation for Georgia was $449 million. Georgia has selected the first phase of projects to be completed with Recovery Act funds and has awarded 44 contracts totaling $88 million. The projects selected include a bridge-widening project in Gwinnett County and a road-widening and -expansion project in Henry County.

U.S. Department of Education State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF)

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Georgia its entire $1 billion initial allocation. As of June 30, 2009, the state had allocated $698 million of these funds to local education agencies and institutions of higher education. These entities plan to use the funds to stabilize their budgets and retain staff. For example, the University of Georgia plans to use its $19 million allocation for fiscal year 2010 to retain approximately 160 full-time faculty positions.

Title I, Part A, of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Georgia about $176 million in Recovery Act ESEA Title I, Part A funds, or 50 percent of its total allocation of approximately $351 million. The state allocated all of these funds to the local education agencies within the state in late April 2009. Local education agencies plan to use these funds to help educate disadvantaged youth by, among other things, providing training and other professional development opportunities for teachers. For example, the Richmond County School System plans to use its funds to expand services to 23 additional elementary, middle, and high schools.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Parts B and C

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Georgia about $169 million in Recovery Act IDEA, Part B and C funds, or 50 percent of its total allocation of about $339 million. Georgia allocated all of its IDEA, Part B funds to the local education agencies within the state in late April 2009. Local education agencies plan to use these funds to support special education and related services for preschool and school-aged children with disabilities. For instance, the Atlanta Public Schools plans to use its funds to provide training for its staff and retain 49 special education paraprofessionals.

Workforce Investment Act Youth Program

The U.S. Department of Labor allotted to Georgia about $31.3 million in Workforce Investment Act Youth Recovery Act funds. As of June 30, 2009, the state had allocated $26.7 million of these funds to local workforce boards. As of June 19, 2009, about 8,700 youth were enrolled in summer youth programs statewide. Overall, the state expects the funds to create more than 10,000 summer jobs for its youth.

Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance has awarded $36 million in Recovery Act funding directly to Georgia. As of June 25, 2009, none of these funds had been obligated by the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which administers these grants for the state.[3] The state plans to use these funds to support positions at state agencies with criminal justice missions and fund assistance for victims of crime, among other things.

Weatherization Assistance Program

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) allocated to Georgia about $125 million in Recovery Act weatherization funding for a 3-year period. As of June 26, 2009, DOE had provided $62.5 million to Georgia, and the state had obligated none of these funds. Georgia plans to get weatherization activities under way in August 2009 and ultimately weatherize about 13,600 homes owned by low-income families.

Public Housing Capital Fund

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has allocated about $113 million in Recovery Act funding to 184 public housing agencies in Georgia. As of June 20, 2009, these public housing agencies had obligated about $8 million (7.5 percent). At the two public housing agencies we visited (Atlanta and Athens), these funds—which flow directly to public housing authorities—will be used for various capital improvements, including modifying bathrooms and kitchens and replacing roofs, windows, and elevators.

Safeguarding & Transparency

Georgia has issued unique accounting codes to track Recovery Act funds separately. In addition, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget has issued a risk management handbook that requires each agency that is a direct recipient of Recovery Act funding to prepare a risk mitigation plan. The State Auditor has provided internal controls training to state agency personnel but is awaiting additional federal guidance on targeting its risk assessments to include programs receiving Recovery Act funding. In addition, the individual state agencies that administer Recovery Act funds have implemented internal controls, such as risk assessments and monitoring plans.

Assessing the Effects of Spending

While waiting for additional federal guidance, the state proceeded with plans to adapt an automated system used for financial management to meet Recovery Act reporting requirements. The system is operational, and the state has begun collecting data on jobs created and retained.

Additional content excerpted from the Georgia Appendix:

Georgia Is Using Recovery Act Funds to Offset Declining Revenues

To offset declining revenue, Georgia included Recovery Act funding in both its amended fiscal year 2009 budget and its fiscal year 2010 budget. Our work, which focused on nine selected federal programs, indicated that Georgia has started spending its Recovery Act funds. The nine programs on which we focused included the Medicaid program, three education programs, and the federal-aid highway program.

During fiscal year 2009, Georgia took a number of cost-saving measures due to its declining fiscal condition:

A few agencies furloughed staff. For instance, the Georgia Department of Transportation required all full-time employees to take 1 furlough day during the months of April, May, and June 2009 and plans to continue the furloughs in fiscal year 2010. The Georgia Department of Education required all employees to take 1 furlough day from November 17, 2008, through February 13, 2009.

A number of programs were cut or eliminated. For instance, the primary funding mechanism for elementary and secondary education was reduced by approximately $550 million in the amended fiscal year 2009 budget and by about $431 million in the fiscal year 2010 budget. At the Georgia Department of Human Services, a reduction of $16 million impacted the level of service staff could provide in the food stamp, Medicaid, and child protective services programs. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs saw a reduction of $76 million in its amended fiscal year 2009 budget and $74 million in its fiscal year 2010 budget. These reductions will impact programs that provide grants and assistance to rural areas of the state and state-funded community development programs that assist homeless families in achieving housing stability, among other things.

Some agencies canceled or delayed contracts. For example, when funding for the Georgia Department of Corrections’ general operations was reduced by $25 million, the department decreased its procurement of goods and services, among other things. In addition, budget cuts at the Georgia Department of Administrative Services delayed the full implementation of an upgrade of the state’s procurement system.

Georgia’s amended fiscal year 2009 budget and its fiscal year 2010 budget were signed by the Governor on March 13, 2009, and May 13, 2009, respectively. According to state budget officials, the inclusion of Recovery Act funds in both budgets reduced the number of cuts required to balance the budgets. The amended fiscal year 2009 budget included $477 million in Recovery Act funds for Medicaid. The fiscal year 2010 budget included $727 million for Medicaid, $521 million in State Fiscal Stabilization Funds for education stabilization, and $140 million in State Fiscal Stabilization Funds for government services (such as staffing costs at state prisons and the state’s forensic laboratory system).4

Since the amended fiscal year 2009 budget was signed in March 2009, the state’s revenue projections have continued to decline. The state’s net revenue collections for May 2009 were 14.4 percent less than they were in May 2008, representing a decrease of approximately $212 million in total tax and other collections. On May 28, 2009, the lower-than-expected revenue projections led the Governor to instruct the Office of Planning and Budget to reduce available funds by 25 percent for the month of June (the last month of fiscal year 2009).

The lower-than-expected revenue numbers also caused Georgia to use more Recovery Act funds in fiscal year 2009 than it had anticipated using. In addition to using the Recovery Act Medicaid funds approved in its amended fiscal year 2009 budget, it used $177 million in education stabilization funds and approximately $12 million in government services funds. Further, the state used more of its reserves in fiscal year 2009 than originally planned. Instead of the $200 million it planned to use from its Revenue Shortfall Reserve, or “rainy day” fund, in fiscal year 2009, the state may use up to $650 million.5 The state also has budgeted an additional $259 million in fiscal year 2010, further depleting Georgia’s rainy-day fund.

The Governor’s office has required state agencies to spend funds judiciously and develop action plans that recognize that the funding is temporary. However, Georgia is still in the process of developing a strategy for winding down its use of Recovery Act funds. In part, such a strategy is dependent on revenue and expenditure projections, which will be updated as part of the fiscal year 2011 budget planning process. In addition, risk mitigation plans currently being developed by state agencies may impact the state’s exit strategy.

State resources for oversight of Recovery Act funds continue to be limited. The State Auditor highlighted the need for increased staffing to complete single audits for fiscal years 2009–2011. Approximately 140 of his current staff will have some Recovery Act auditing responsibilities. To meet additional auditing responsibilities, the State Auditor estimated that his office would need 7 to 8 additional staff for the fiscal year 2009 audits, at least 16 additional auditors over current staffing levels for the fiscal year 2010 audits, and at least 10 auditors over current staffing levels for the fiscal year 2011 audits. The Georgia Inspector General’s office currently has 4 staff, 2 of which have Recovery Act responsibilities. According to the Inspector General, the office needs about 5 more staff in order to monitor compliance with Recovery Act provisions. These staff would be responsible for overseeing and monitoring the state agencies’ distribution of funds, reviewing contracts, and investigating allegations of wrongdoing related to the funds.

Increased FMAP Funds Are Allowing Georgia to Maintain Its Medicaid Program

Medicaid is a joint federal-state program that finances health care for certain categories of low-income individuals, including children, families, persons with disabilities, and persons who are elderly. The federal government matches state spending for Medicaid services according to a formula based on each state’s per capita income in relation to the national average per capita income. The rate at which states are reimbursed for Medicaid service expenditures is known as the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP), which may range from 50 percent to no more than 83 percent. The Recovery Act provides eligible states with an increased FMAP for 27 months from October 1, 2008, through December 31, 2010.6 On February 25, 2009, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) made increased FMAP grant awards to states, and states may retroactively claim reimbursement for expenditures that occurred prior to the effective date of the Recovery Act.7 Generally, for federal fiscal year 2009 through the first quarter of federal fiscal year 2011, the increased FMAP, which is calculated on a quarterly basis, provides for (1) the maintenance of states’ prior year FMAPs; (2) a general across-the-board increase of 6.2 percentage points in states’ FMAPs; and (3) a further increase to the FMAPs for those states that have a qualifying increase in unemployment rates. The increased FMAP available under the Recovery Act is for state expenditures for Medicaid services. However, the receipt of this increased FMAP may reduce the funds that states would otherwise have to use for their Medicaid programs, and states have reported using these available funds for a variety of purposes.

From October 2007 to April 2009, the state’s Medicaid enrollment grew from 1,244,889 to 1,343,756, an increase of almost 8 percent. Enrollment during this period varied, and there were several months where enrollment decreased (see fig. 1). The increase in enrollment was mostly attributable to the population group of children and families, and there was a decline in the disabled individuals’ population group.

As of June 29, 2009, Georgia had drawn down about $498 million in increased FMAP grant awards, which is about 92 percent of its awards to date.8 Georgia officials reported they are using funds made available as a result of the increased FMAP to offset the state budget deficit. State officials also reported they are planning to use these funds to cover the state’s increased caseload, to maintain current Medicaid populations and benefits, and avoid cuts to eligibility, pending state approval to do so.

As a result of Georgia’s economic climate in the fall of 2008, the state had delayed provider rate increases and began exploring options that would avoid potential cuts to the program, such as to certain eligibility categories and optional Medicaid benefits. An official noted that with the increased FMAP funds, Georgia has been able to maintain its Medicaid eligibility categories and benefits. In using the increased FMAP, Georgia officials reported that the Medicaid program has incurred additional costs related to

  • personnel needed to ensure programmatic compliance with requirements associated with the increased FMAP,
  • personnel needed to ensure compliance with reporting requirements related to the increased FMAP, and
  • the administrative processes devoted to project management and the creation of communication avenues for internal and external tracking of the use of stimulus funds.

Georgia officials said they did not have any concerns about maintaining eligibility for increased FMAP. The state was not considering any changes to program eligibility and was already in compliance with the prompt pay requirements.9,10 In terms of tracking the use of these funds, the state relies on an existing accounting system to track the use of increased FMAP and uses unique identifiers for these funds, which are tracked separately from regular FMAP. State officials also noted that the state separately codes expenditure transactions related to the increased FMAP and conducts reconciliations to ensure correctness. In addition, the officials noted that the Governor’s office has appointed an individual to work with the state audit and accounting offices to generate a weekly report on both receipts and expenditures related to the increased FMAP. To further ensure correctness, a staff person independently reviews the details of services for which increased FMAP was obtained, according to officials.

Regarding the Single Audit, both the 2007 and 2008 audits identified material weaknesses in the state’s Medicaid program. The 2007 Single Audit for Georgia identified one material weakness related to the Medicaid program.11 Specifically, the audit found examples of where fee-for-service payments and capitation payments were made for the same services. These double payments were estimated to total $52.7 million. The state concurred with the finding, noting that the double payment was the result of an imperfect transmittal of a member database update from the Medicaid Management Information System. The state implemented corrective action procedures, which included efforts to improve monitoring. The 2008 Single Audit identified concerns related to documentation of eligibility and problems in calculating and reconciling accounts receivable.

Funds Have Been Obligated for Georgia Federal-Aid Highway Projects

The Recovery Act provides funding to the states for restoration, repair, and construction of highways and other activities allowed under the Federal-Aid Highway Surface Transportation Program and for other eligible surface transportation projects. The Recovery Act requires that 30 percent of these funds be suballocated for projects in metropolitan and other areas of the state. Highway funds are apportioned to the states through existing federal-aid highway program mechanisms, and states must follow the requirements of the existing program including planning, environmental review, contracting, and other requirements. However, the federal fund share of highway infrastructure investment projects under the Recovery Act is up to 100 percent, while the federal share under the existing federal-aid highway program is generally 80 percent.

As we reported in April 2009, $932 million was apportioned to Georgia in March for highway infrastructure and other eligible projects. As of June 25, 2009, $449 million had been obligated. The U.S. Department of Transportation has interpreted the term “obligation of funds” to mean the federal government’s contractual commitment to pay for the federal share of the project. This commitment occurs at the time the federal government signs a project agreement. As of June 25, 2009, no funds had been reimbursed by FHWA. States request reimbursement from FHWA as the state makes payments to contractors working on approved projects.12

Status of Planning for Highway Infrastructure Spending

As of June 12, 2009, the Governor had certified three rounds of projects to be funded with Recovery Act funds, completing the Georgia Department of Transportation’s first phase of planning. The selection process for the second phase of projects was to be completed by the end of June 2009. According to FHWA data, the majority of the funds that had been obligated as of June 25, 2009, were for pavement projects (see table 1).

As of June 12, 2009, the Georgia Department of Transportation had awarded 44 contracts, for a total of $88 million.13 Most of these contracts were awarded for an amount that was less than originally estimated. According to Georgia Department of Transportation officials, bids have been coming in lower than expected due to current economic conditions. The first of these contracts is estimated to be completed by December 2009. The majority of the remaining phase one projects are expected to be bid on in June or July 2009.

Recovery Act Requirements for Highway Infrastructure Spending

The Recovery Act includes a number of specific requirements for highway infrastructure spending. First, states are required to ensure that 50 percent of apportioned Recovery Act funds are obligated within 120 days of apportionment (before June 30, 2009) and that the remaining apportioned funds are obligated within 1 year. The 50 percent rule applies only to funds apportioned to the state and not to the 30 percent of funds required by the Recovery Act to be suballocated, primarily based on population, for metropolitan, regional, and local use. The Secretary of Transportation is to withdraw and redistribute to other states any amount that is not obligated within these time frames. As of June 25, 2009, 59 percent of the $652 million that is subject to the 50 percent rule for the 120-day redistribution had been obligated.

Second, the Recovery Act requires states to give priority to projects that can be completed within 3 years and projects located in “economically distressed areas.” Economically distressed areas are defined by the Public Works and Economic Development Act of 1965, as amended.15 As shown in figure 3, the Georgia Department of Transportation considered a number of different factors when selecting its first phase of projects in order to ensure that it met the act’s requirements.

Specifically, the department considered whether projects were “shovel ready” and could becompleted within 3 years. Of the Recovery Act projects selected tothe department expects all but one to be completed by February 2012. TGeorgia Department of Transportation also took into account the location of the potential projects—that is, whether they were in an economically distressed area, as identified by FHWA. Its goal was for 50 percent of the projects it selected to be located in these areas. Of the 138 projects selected during phase one, 77 (or about 56 percent) are located in economically distressed areas.

Third, the Recovery Act required the governor of each state to certify that the state would maintain the level of spending for the types of transportation projects funded by the Recovery Act at the level planned the day the Recovery Act was enacted. As part of this “maintenance of effort” certification, the governor is required to identify the amount of funds the state planned to expend from state sources as of February 17, 2009, for the period beginning on that date and extending through September 30, 2010.16 On March 18, 2009, Georgia submitted its maintenance-of-effort certification. As we reported in April, Georgia was one of several states that qualified its certification, prompting the U.S. Department of Transportation to review these certifications to determine if they were consistent with the law.17 On April 22, 2009, the Secretary of Transportation informed states that conditional and explanatory certifications were not permitted, provided additional guidance, and gave states the option of amending their certifications by May 22, 2009. Georgia resubmitted its certification on May 20, 2009. In addition to deleting the conditional statement, the Georgia Department of Transportation recalculated its maintenance of effort based on April guidance from FHWA.18 According to U.S. Department of Transportation officials, the department is reviewing Georgia’s resubmitted certification letter and has concluded that the form of the certification is consistent with the additional guidance. The U.S. Department of Transportation is currently evaluating whether the states’ method of calculating the amounts they planned to expend for the covered programs is in compliance with its guidance.

Georgia Has Started Expending Recovery Act Funds for Education

The Recovery Act makes funds available for education under three different programs. The first program—the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund—provides funding for education, as well as public safety and other government services. The other two programs provide funding to improve the academic achievements of disadvantaged youth and for special education. Georgia has begun using these funds to retain instructors at all levels and is making plans to provide additional services to disadvantaged youth and disabled students.

State Fiscal Stabilization Funds

The Recovery Act created a State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) to be administered by the U.S. Department of Education (Education). The SFSF provides funds to states to help avoid reductions in education and other essential public services. The initial award of SFSF funding requires each state to submit an application to Education that provides several assurances. These include assurances that the state will meet maintenance-of-effort requirements (or it will be able to comply with waiver provisions) and that it will implement strategies to meet certain educational requirements, including increasing teacher effectiveness, addressing inequities in the distribution of highly qualified teachers, and improving the quality of state academic standards and assessments.

Further, the state applications must contain baseline data that demonstrate the state’s current status in each of the assurances. States must allocate 81.8 percent of their SFSF funds to support education (education stabilization funds) and must use the remaining 18.2 percent for public safety and other government services, which may include education (government services funds). After maintaining state support for education at fiscal year 2006 levels, states must use education stabilization funds to restore state funding to the greater of fiscal year 2008 or 2009 levels for state support to school districts or public Institutions of Higher Education (IHE). When distributing these funds to school districts, states must use their primary education funding formula but maintain discretion in how funds are allocated to public IHEs. In general, school districts maintain broad discretion in how they can use stabilization funds, but states have some ability to direct IHEs in how to use these funds.

Georgia has received its entire $1 billion initial allocation for SFSF. Of that amount, $845 million is for education stabilization and $188 million is for government services. Based on the state’s current application (which was approved in May 2009), the state will allocate approximately 74 percent of the education stabilization funds to local education agencies (LEA) and approximately 26 percent to IHEs. As of June 10, 2009, the state had made $177 million available to LEAs and IHEs, and the LEAs and IHEs had expended the entire amount. The state’s application provided assurance that the state will maintain state support for education at least at fiscal year 2006 levels.

As previously mentioned, the state used $177 million in education stabilization funds and $12 million in government services funds to help offset budget shortfalls at the end of fiscal year 2009. As of June 10, 2009, all $189 million had been expended. The state’s budget for fiscal year 2010 includes $521 million in education stabilization funds and $140 million in government services funds. Georgia plans to use the government services funds to help maintain safe staffing levels at state prisons, appropriately staff the state’s forensic laboratory system, and avoid cuts in the number of state troopers.

The Georgia Department of Education received $413 million in education stabilization funds for fiscal year 2010. The department utilized the state’s primary funding formula for elementary and secondary education to determine allocations of funds for the LEAs in the state and suggested that the funds be used for personnel, teachers, and benefits.19 In order to receive these funds, LEAs must submit an application via the state’s consolidated application that includes planned uses for the funds in fiscal year 2010, detailed budget data such as jobs created and saved, and program-specific assurances such as agreeing to track and account for education stabilization funds separately and to avoid prohibited uses of the funds (for example, payment of maintenance costs and restoring or supplementing a “rainy day” fund).20 The Georgia Department of Education has not set a specific deadline for these applications, and LEAs whose applications are approved must then submit a detailed budget. As of June 8, 2009, 106 of the 186 LEAs in the state had successfully submitted applications and were developing their budgets; however, no budgets had been approved.

GAO Links – July Report

Recovery Act: States’ and Localities’ Current and Planned Uses of Funds While Facing Fiscal Stresses
Summary (HTML)   Highlights Page (PDF)   Full Report (PDF, 167 pages)   <!–Accessible Text–>
Recovery Act: States’ and Localities’ Current and Planned Uses of Funds While Facing Fiscal Stresses (Appendixes)
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