CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Adjutant General James Hoyer and Homeland Security Director Michael Todorovich agree the state needs to do more to support communities trying to recover from natural disasters.
Their comments followed a state Auditor’s investigation revealed that the City of Richwood failed to properly use up to $3.1 million in federal disaster money. Richwood was among the hardest-hit communities during the catastrophic flood of 2016.
“We’re pretty good at responding to the flood piece and the safety and the things people need immediately,” Hoyer said Wednesday on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
“The ability to address all the things that have to be done in the FEMA process to get things back together, that’s what we’re working on.”
Maj. Gen. James Hoyer & the Director of @WVDHSEM, Mike Todorovich, join @HoppyKercheval to discuss the audit in Richwood & what is being done about it. WATCH: https://t.co/Vqz0gmT3b1 pic.twitter.com/AeB1aroI4J
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) April 3, 2019
Among the factors the Auditor’s report questioned was whether West Virginia does enough to guide overwhelmed communities as they cope with disaster.
“During the course of our investigation, we continually encountered a general sentiment from local governmental officials of not knowing what to do. Indeed, from a State perspective, the handling of a disaster (both financially and practically) needs to become a priority initiative going forward,” wrote the Auditor’s Public Integrity & Fraud Unit.
“While recent media reports have suggested a lot of management changes within DHSEM have allegedly been made, further training, guidance, and initiatives need to undertaken with local governments in the handling of a disaster.”
The Auditor’s Office made two related recommendations:
Recommendation 1: The West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety/DHSEM must evaluate the manner in which FEMA monies are received and projects closed out to ensure timely payments. DMAPS must also review and consider instituting new and better oversight of sub-recipient counties and municipalities that receive FEMA monies.
Recommendation 2: Instead of forcing sub-recipient to hire outside consultants, the State of West Virginia (by and through multiple agencies) should establish a guidebook and mandate annual training for counties and municipalities relating to the management of public monies in the aftermath of an emergency.
The reference to consultants has to do with the City of Richwood’s decision to hire an outside contractor to provide guidance about how Federal Emergency Management grants could be used.
Hoyer agreed West Virginia communities need options beyond guidance from consultants who show up after a disaster.
“They relied on outside contractors who came in to give them advice on reimbursement that was just not accurate with what FEMA regulations and guidelines are,” Hoyer said.
“You create this capacity we’re talking about to be able to better help local communities so they don’t have to rely on that outside support.”
Hoyer described establishing an internal audit team within Homeland Security and Emergency Management to examine relief issues while also establishing site assistance teams to go out to communities.
“In the case of Richwood, from what I have been made availed to, there are some things related to fraud that aren’t going to be caught until after the fact,” Hoyer said. “So what we’re trying to do is be more proactive.”
Todorovich, who was named to his position late last year, agreed.
“We’re leaning forward and seeing how we can teach people to better be prepared with the paperwork and those types of things,.” Todorovich said.
“When a flood comes, people don’t care as much about the paperwork as they do getting what they need.”
Former Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato retired on Friday, the same day the Richwood audit was unveiled.
Hoyer said those were not directly related.
“Richwood specific, no,” he said. “But there was a point at which the governor decided he needed to make a change in direction related to Homeland Security and Emergency Management.”
Hoyer acknowledged continued challenges to make progress with housing under RISE West Virginia.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has placed West Virginia back on a “slow spender” list for the pace of using federal grant money for flood relief.
Of the $149,875,000 that West Virginia had available, the state still has $136,601,297 left.
Hoyer indicated 47 housing cases have been completed.
Hoyer said the number of open cases continues to rise, “bringing the total to 476 as new cases continue to come in and previously inactive cases are brought back to active status.”
He said 245 cases require total reconstruction, 105 cases require some form of rehabilitation actions, and 114 cases require new mobile home replacement, while 12 cases are awaiting initial project type.
Hoyer said holdups may include factors ranging from completing environmental assessments to getting homeowner agreements in place.
“The 476 cases we’ve got are the 476 hardest cases to close out,” he said. “I’m not making excuses. My job is not to make excuses. My job is to execute. But I believe we are moving forward at a good solid pace.”