The stories continue to surface about problems with RISE WV, West Virginia’s long-term flood recovery program. Jack Lipphardt, director of West Virginia United Methodist Disaster Recovery, told our Brad McElhinny, “We’ve been frustrated with them for quite some time.”
Lipphardt said his organization was told one year ago that RISE WV would have hundreds of new homes built for victims of the 2016 flood by now, but very little has happened. “The delays just keep coming, people tangled up in red tape… obviously something is broken.”
The federal office of Housing and Urban Development has allocated nearly $150 million to rebuild homes and repair infrastructure in the flood-damaged communities, but only a fraction of that money has made it to the flood victims.
The state Commerce Department is running RISE. The Justice Administration says it fired Deputy Commerce Secretary and General Counsel Josh Jarrell over his handling of a contract with a consultant hired to help manage the recovery efforts. But Jarrell told the Gazette-Mail’s Jake Zuckerman that he left of his own accord and that any errors were minor in light of the desire to rush federal money to flood victims.
It is unfair to blame one guy in the Commerce Department for these unacceptable delays. Additionally, there has been an ongoing turf battle among the State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the National Guard and Commerce over who is best suited to run the disaster recovery programs.
(Brad McElhinny takes a comprehensive look at the long-term flood relief delays here.)
Governor Justice, who put a temporary freeze on RISE earlier this year because of the contract controversy, has ordered a restart to the program. He announced last night that six families have been given keys to new homes. “I have a directive to get this program back up and running so that we can get our hurting neighbors a new home to settle back into,” Justice said in a release.
Justice was at the front of the line to help after the flood ravaged parts of central and southeastern West Virginia, including his home Greenbrier County and the historic Greenbrier Resort that he owns. Justice reached deep into his own pockets to aid flood victims by opening up the resort to flood victims and spearheading fundraising efforts.
We know Justice’s heart is in the right place on this. We also know that the administration wants to be careful about the spending because a big federal program with lax safeguards is ripe for fraud, waste and abuse. He stated in his release last night that he has already prevented the state from wasting $8 million.
However, the delays have become untenable. The state started taking applications for the Community Development Block Grant disaster relief funds last August. Justice said in a news release at the time, “The funds from the RISE program will help West Virginians get back on their feet and on the path to recovery.”
But the state didn’t make its request to start using the money until five months later and it was another month before HUD gave its approval. By then, the grassroots groups that had been working on flood recovery since shortly after the disaster were growing increasingly aggravated.
Every day, people who lost their homes are calling local relief organizations, the Governor’s Office, anyone who will pick up the phone, to try to find out what’s going on. The answers are long overdue. Governor Justice appears to have kicked the program back into gear, and it’s about time.