April 04, 2019

State Awaits Flood Dollars | Elkins Inter-Mountain

CHARLESTON — West Virginia is awaiting more than $106 million to help limit the damage from the next big flood, but the state is having issues spending the federal funding it has now.

In a statement released Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., expressed frustration over delays in releasing $106,494,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program for disaster recovery.

Manchin said the holdup is with the Office of Management and Budget at the White House. He sponsored an amendment to clear the funding backlog to a disaster supplements bill to help states and territories, but that amendment was blocked.

“As the disaster supplemental process moves forward, I will fight to ensure that any bill that passes Congress will require OMB to deal with their backlog, including the $100 million for West Virginia, before spending additional disaster funds,” Manchin said. “We should never play politics when families are hurting, and it is past time that we to come to the aid of our West Virginia neighbors.” 

According to Katey McCutcheon, press secretary for Manchin’s office, the $106 million is part of $15.9 billion that Congress appropriated in February 2018 as part of the Bipartisan Budget Agreement.

West Virginia has already received more than $149 million from HUD for disaster recovery after floods tore through the state in the summer of 2016. But the state returned to HUD’s “slow spender” list in February for “spending less than 10 percent of monthly pace required to fully use the grant by target closeout.”

As of March 1, the state still had 91 percent of its grant funding left, or more than $136 million, with $603,824 spent on average for the last three months. The state was on the slow spender list from April 2018 to November 2018, when the state was categorized as “on pace.”

West Virginia received the CDBG disaster recovery funds in December 2016 and May 2017, bringing the total HUD money to $149,875,000. The state was required to use the funding in the counties hardest hit by the 2016 floods: Kanawha, Greenbrier, Clay and Nicholas counties.

HUD granted spending approval in February 2018 through the RISE West Virginia program managed by the state Department of Commerce, but the Governor’s Office called a pause to the program. It was later revealed through a legislative audit that RISE entered into six illegal contracts with Horne LLP totaling $18 million. Commerce also entered into seven contracts with four construction companies for more than $71 million that were awarded before HUD approved use of the funds.

Several commerce department officials were fired or resigned in the wake of the RISE controversy, including former Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher. The West Virginia National Guard was put in charge of the RISE program in June 2018.

As of March 29, the national guard has completed 47 cases, ranging from home and trailer rehabilitations to brand new construction. But the number of new cases continues to rise, currently sitting at 476. Of that number, 245 cases require total reconstruction, 105 cases require rehabilitation, and 114 cases require new mobile home replacement, with 12 cases that haven’t bene put in a category yet.

A request for comment from the West Virginia National Guard was not returned.


By:  Steve Allen Adams