Shoch wants DCED grant investigation
SUNBURY - Northumberland County Commissioner Richard Shoch said he welcomes an investigation into the alleged mismanagement of a state grant that requires the county to pay back $215,150 for failing to provide proper documentation to determine client eligibility.
Meanwhile, Commissioners Vinny Clausi and Stephen Bridy maintain their previous stance that the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) did not provide adequate direction for the grant program and said county officials should travel to Washington, D.C., to visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to clear up the controversy surrounding the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing (HPRP) Program.
Shoch said he attempted Thursday to have a motion placed on Tuesday's meeting agenda to have the inspector general from HUD and the FBI investigate the county, which he said had an approximate 80 percent failure rate for the grant program. But he said his request was denied by Clausi, who as chairman of the board determines the agenda.
"There are a lot of questions out there and I feel there is a need for a thorough investigation," Shoch said. "This isn't about any individual. It's about finding out what the county did wrong and who is responsible, and if there was any kind of fraud involved."
Shoch said he was dismayed that his fellow commissioners would not support a motion when they both previously said publicly they would.
Clausi said he sent a letter dated Jan. 11 to DCED grant manager Beverly A. Hutzel seeking documentation that explains why Michael Faust, of 1766 W. Chestnut St., Coal Township, brother of county grants manager Kathy Jeremiah, was ineligible for grant money based on his income.
In the letter, Clausi states, "With respect to page 6 regarding the 'conflict of interest,' ... your review determined that the client was ineligible due to a lack of supporting documentation for homelessness status and income qualifications."
He provides what he believes is the supporting documentation.
Clausi said Faust's first application was submitted Jan. 15, 2010, indicating the client was receiving unemployment benefits. During that same time period, payments were made Jan. 29, 2010, to PPL in the amount of $163.99; Jan. 29, 2010, to Aqua Pennsylvania in the amount of $195.81, and April 22, 2010, to PPL in the amount of $267.08.
In his letter, Clausi said Faust began employment at Polar-Tech Industries of Pa. Oct. 3, 2011, and submitted a second application for assistance Oct. 16, 2011. Payment was made on his behalf Jan. 17, 2011, to PPL in the amount of $143.
He asks DCED to provide documentation "as to how you made the determination that this client was ineligible based on his income?"
Jeremiah had previously said she believes DCED miscalculated Faust's income, in part basing it on 12 months of employment in 2011 when he only worked for three months of that year.
DCED calls Faust's delinquent water and electricity bills being paid through the state grant program a conflict of interest, but Jeremiah claims that's not the case.
Jeremiah, in a previous interview, said she had no direct connection to the grant being awarded to her brother. And, she said the money went directly to PPL and Aqua Pennsylvania.
Jeremiah said she and siblings own the property at 1766 W. Chestnut St.
DCED officials spent the second half of 2012 reviewing the county's record keeping regarding the grant, and detailed how much the county would have to pay back.
Hutzel, in a nine-page letter to the county detailing why it had to pay back grant money, never mentioned Jeremiah or her brother by name. She did use one full page to detail the policy regarding conflict of interest. In addition to the relationship, she said the county employee had an ownership interest in the property her brother rented.
Jeremiah said she didn't know how her brother learned about the program, and that she didn't know he applied until after the fact. She said she recalled seeing his last name on a spreadsheet she dealt with as part of the program.
She stressed that she had nothing to do with his application, its approval or the administration of the money.
She said she learned about DCED's concern about the relationship in November after she said DCED contacted Shoch.