The Joint Committee on Flooding met Tuesday and heard an update on the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management—Federal Grant Management and an update on the RISE program.
Earlier this month, members of the Post Audits Subcommittee heard a report from the Performance Evaluation and Research Division on the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM). FEMA placed DHSEM on manual reimbursement effective Jan. 13, 2016.
FEMA notified the department in a November 2015 letter about the state's placement on manual reimbursement. The report said the action was a result of several years of the department’s inability to comply with grant requirements and failing to remedy issues-- specifically, issues regarding sub-recipient monitoring.
Manual reimbursements may add as much as 90 days of additional time for any reimbursement request exceeding $100,000.
Only West Virginia and Puerto Rico are subject to this manual reimbursement process, according to the report.
In Tuesday’s meeting, committee members heard from Jimmy Gianato, a Homeland Security consultant. Gianato mentioned issues with sub-recipient monitoring, which he said has been a problem since 2010.
“The biggest challenge is not having enough staff to do sub-recipient monitoring and do disaster recovery,” Gianato told the committee.
The manual reimbursement penalty affects the Hazard Mitigation Grants program, Public Assistance grants, the Community Assistance program, Cooperating Technical Partners, the Emergency Management Performance grants and includes all open grants, including the 2016 flood grants, according to the PERD report. Gianato said FEMA lifted the manual reimbursement requirement during the 2016 floods but only for that event.
Michael Todorovich, director of the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, also addressed the committee Tuesday. Todorovich said the department is working on policies to improve oversight of the grants.
“I truly believe you will see some significant positive results,” Todorovich said.
Committee members asked about steps the department is taking to prevent manual reimbursements in the future.
Todorovich said the department has a full monitoring staff that is part of internal review.
Committee members also asked if the department is working to improve poor sub-recipient monitoring. Todorovich said there had been problems with returning phone calls expeditiously but the department is working on a system where every phone call that comes in is logged, assigned to someone and noted when it's completed.
Todorovich said he is working on a spreadsheet to give to committee members on grants, detailing the amount of money available, the amount of money spent, and the remaining amount of money.
Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general, said his biggest priorities are communication, management, hiring more people, and following up. He said staffing challenges have been part of the problem.
“We want to build as much capability internally for the state that we can afford to make sure that we have that capability going forward,” Hoyer said.
“I want to build a capable staff in the state of West Virginia so when FEMA has a disaster somewhere else, they want to call on us going forward,” Hoyer said.
Committee members also heard updates on the RISE program. The Legislative Auditor previously conducted an audit of the RISE program, detailing issues with construction companies that did work for the program.
Justin Robinson, director of the Post Audit Division, and Adam Fridley, legislative audit manager, said they anticipate releasing a report in December.
Fridley said since the time of the last report, the West Virginia Development Office has executed new contracts. He said all active cases in the system are currently under contract.
Hoyer said there are 410 cases outstanding – 171 that require total reconstruction, 153 that require some form of rehabilitation, and 86 mobile home replacement units. So far, 39 homes have been completed.
Hoyer said there are contracts in place to manage these 410 cases. However, of those 410, he said there may be other issues including environmental assessments before going into the queue to the actual contractors.
Legislators asked Hoyer about the timeframe to complete these outstanding cases.
“We’re on a good path but I still believe … we have 24 months of work to do with the goal of expediting as quickly as we can,” Hoyer said, noting weather is a factor determining how quickly work is done.
Legislators also asked Hoyer if West Virginia is still listed as a “slow spender” under the U.S. department of Housing and Urban Development. West Virginia is now listed as “on pace.” “Slow spender” means spending less than 10 percent of the monthly pace required to fully use the grant by the target closeout date, which is Dec. 30, 2023. “On pace” means spending greater than 10 percent of the monthly pace.