Get Recovery Funds Flowing

Gov. Jim Justice is absolutely right to insist that nearly $150 million in federal flood relief money be spent appropriately and effectively in West Virginia.

But every day of delay in doling the funds out to victims of flash floods nearly two years ago is a serious problem. That is especially true now, as excellent weather for construction work has begun.

Justice’s administration revealed last week it had pushed “the pause button” on a flood recovery initiative using nearly $150 million in federal funds administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A months-long investigation into how the state handles the money is the cause of delay.

Very few details have been released, but we know Justice and other state officials have reason for concern. Their level of displeasure has been indicated by the firing of a state Department of Commerce employee who had been involved in the flood relief program.

It appears misgivings about how spending was handled center on a Mississippi company, Horne LLP, that had been hired as a consultant for the recovery initiative. It has been reported a management contract with the firm initially called for it to be paid $900,000 — but that amount was increased to $17 million without required reviews.

Clearly, state officials need to get to the bottom of the situation. If mismanagement was involved, it should be corrected. If criminal acts occurred — and that has not been suggested yet — someone should be prosecuted.

Meanwhile, many victims of flooding, some who lost everything, are waiting for help.

Both HUD officials and leaders of the state Legislature have expressed concern about delays in getting money to those who need it.

Plenty of cash is there. HUD officials say only about $1.1 million of the total federal grant has been spent.

When investigating questions about how nearly $150 million is being spent, some secrecy is to be expected. It is time for the Justice administration to loop legislators and HUD officials in on what is going on, however.

And, of course, the public deserves to know. It is our money, after all. And the flood victims are our Mountain State neighbors.

While the mess is being straightened out, some means of getting the recovery money flowing needs to be devised. Two years is long enough — too long, in fact — for flood victims to wait for help from a program with nearly $150 million ready to be spent.

COMMENTS