County doesn't expect to fight DCED payback
SUNBURY - Northumberland County continues to cooperate with the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) in regards to paying back what will likely be at least $200,000 in grant money, and an appeal seems unlikely.
Northumberland County Commissioner Richard Shoch and county planning director Pat Mack said Friday they have not been made aware of any plans by county officials to appeal the findings of DCED auditors over the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) program, which has been the subject of much debate this week between Shoch and Commissioner Chairman Vinny Clausi.
"We have not had any discussion about that," Shoch said. "Through my experience, I don't know if there's a way to appeal, because you signed a contract. I wouldn't want to spend a lot of money going down that road if it wasn't going to be fruitful."
Mack agreed, saying he has heard no one talking about fighting DCED.
"They've been talking to us, and guiding us, and working with our grants manager. I don't know if there even is an appeal process, but we've been working with them," he said.
While DCED auditors were looking over county records in July, Mack said he and other county employees were gathering information on more than 100 clients and landlords who benefited from the program.
There was "so much" criteria, Mack said, plus some clients or landlords moved, so the county was required to find them to validate whether the files documented the proper information.
DCED mum on payment
Meanwhile, Edward Jordan, press aide for DCED, said the department is aware of the issue and is working with the county, but said DCED would make no comment regarding if, how much and when the county would have to repay.
Shoch said he was told a letter to the county has been sitting in the DCED offices since Thanksgiving, detailing the exact amount owed and what inefficiencies existed in the grant process.
He said it's possible the letter hasn't been sent yet because DCED is giving the county extra time to review files and provide further documentation.
However, Shoch was told the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), to which the grant money is owed, has been demanding money from DCED since a Nov. 11 deadline.
Shoch said a 30-day time clock starts as soon as the letter reaches the county.
Jordan said the HPRP program is designed to provide financial assistance, housing relocation and stabilization services, data collection and evaluation and administrative costs. The purpose of funding is to provide homelessness prevention assistance to households who would otherwise become homeless - many due to economic crisis - and to provide assistance to rapidly re-house persons who are homeless, as defined by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
The county was eligible for $365,000 in funding, and county Adult Social Services and the planning department received $291,829.47 between 2010 and 2012 to distribute to low-income families, according to Mack.
Of that $291,829.47, the county used $170,254.14 - $102,468.96 in 2010, $60,945.18 in 2011, and $4,840 in 2012, he said.
From conversations with DCED, Shoch believes the county is responsible for paying back between $200,000 and $250,000 of that $291,829.47.
"They (DCED officials) wouldn't commit to a number," he said.
The problem, said Shoch, includes not having the proper documentation to prove recipients of the money were eligible and distributing money to ineligible individuals.
He has been critical of Clausi not alerting him to the problem soon enough, but Clausi denied Shoch's allegation. Clausi said during a press conference Wednesday he wasn't in favor of the grant program from the beginning, and presented a timeline surrounding the issue. On Oct. 20, 2009, he did not vote for the program and said he had no oversight of it following that date. On Feb. 2, 2012, he said he was informed by Mack that the county had problems with the grant, and he began the process to stop the program. (See the complete timeline in "Reviewing Shoch vs. Clausi," Page 4.)
From April to July, staff worked to close the program, and in July, the severity of the deficient files became known, he said.
Shoch said figuring out "how things fell through the cracks" should be addressed, but after the money is paid back.