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May 2, 2014

Botched HUD records to cost county $177G

SUNBURY — Northumberland County has been ordered to repay $177,873 to the state and federal government for failure to keep accurate records of its Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program grant.

Northumberland County did not administer its program according to requirements in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, according to a 19-page federal audit report submitted Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General.

Specifically, the county “did not always ensure that program participants were eligible for assistance, maintain complete documentation in the participant files, ensure that it incurred only eligible expenses and properly supported them, make draws from the correct grant line items and perform required unit habitability inspections,” and the county also did not return unused program funds as required, according to the report.

HUD determined the total repayment consists of $159,149 in unsupported expenditures, $15,183 in ineligible expenditures and $3,541 in unused grant funds.

But county Commissioners Vinny Clausi and Stephen Bridy put the blame on the program itself, saying the money had to be spent as quickly as possible and with little guidance from the state.

“They rolled a lot of these programs out as fast as they could to stimulate the economy, and there was no clear picture of what needed to be done,” said Bridy, who was not in office at the time of the botched grant program.

“The county is now being punished for doing right by the people who were victims,” Clausi said. “We tried to help them out as much as we could and now they are smashing us.”

The program was to provide financial assistance and services to prevent individuals and families from becoming homeless and to help those who were experiencing homelessness to be quickly rehoused and stabilized.

Commissioner Rick Shoch, who pushed for the investigation into the grant program two years ago, criticized Clausi for what he said Clausi characterized as a nonissue.

“Mr. Clausi indicated this was small potatoes, but when you have 177,000 small potatoes, they can really bury a taxpayer,” Shoch said.

The audit report shows Shoch was not out of line in asking questions about the program, Shoch said.

HUD is the second government agency to require the county to repay funds in the program.

After an audit was conducted by the state Department of Community and Economic Development that required Northumberland County to repay $188,325 in early 2013, commissioners wanted a second opinion from HUD.

In auditing the report, HUD found that 49 of 205 program recipients did not meet the guidelines.

HUD concluded that the county did not provide adequate oversight of the employee responsible for determining participant eligibility and maintaining documentation, and it lacked controls to ensure that it complied with program requirements for incurring expenses, processing draws and conducting inspections.

Clausi said the money would be repaid using Community Development Block Grant money or from the general fund.

He will not, however, be giving his consent to accept any more money from the federal government.

“I will not sign one more grant,” Clausi said. “I will not take a dollar. It’s insane we have to pay that back.”

 

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