CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The number of cases under RISE West Virginia has swung significantly in recent weeks.
Three months ago, March 8, the number was 402.
By May 4, the caseload was up to 496 cases.
A few weeks ago, June 7, there were 456 cases.
There were 432 cases under RISE described in a June 21 update from the West Virginia National Guard.
Senator Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, has been keeping an eye on these fluctuations over time.
“I think it’s still ongoing because the RISE numbers have changed over the last couple of weeks,” said Baldwin, a member of the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding.
“And they don’t quite add up to me unless there are people who are being turned away over the last couple of weeks.”
Senator Greg Boso, R-Nicholas, agrees.
“It makes me wonder, who have we lost? Or how much duplication was there? Why do we have these changing numbers at the magnitude we have?” asked Boso, who is also on the legislative flood committee.
“I can understand a change three or four. But we should have a pretty good handle on this now three years into this process.”
Last week, West Virginia marked the third anniversary of the June 23, 2016, flood.
Twenty-three people were killed. There were 1,200 homes destroyed, and thousands were without power. The flood damaged businesses, roads and water and sewer systems.
The National Guard has been putting out weekly updates about progress under RISE. Those updates have provided some reasons for the changing numbers.
In May, when the numbers grew to almost 500, the National Guard said cases that had earlier been considered closed out were back under review.
Adjutant General James Hoyer, the state’s point man on flood relief, discussed this effort during an April meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding.
“It shows that the consolidated case management system is working,” Hoyer said then, “and we’re doing the right thing by people.”
Then, when the numbers started to drop again sharply in June, there was another reason. Some applicants were receiving notice that they had been dropped from consideration.
The case management system has been under West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.
“VOAD case managers diligently assess each case in the RISE West Virginia program and after three failed attempts to make contact with an applicant, a letter is sent to the applicant with a 30-day window for response,” the National Guard wrote in its June 7 update.
“If the applicant does not respond, they are removed from the program, which accounts for the drop in cases last week and this week.”
Jenny Gannaway, chairwoman of West Virginia VOAD, described what has been happening.
“We reach out. We have the phone number that was given. A lot of this was given in 2017. So some numbers have changed,” Gannaway said in a telephone interview with MetroNews. “We call and call and call. If we cannot reach them, we send a letter to the address we have on file. The number is disconnected or there’s no answer. A lot of times people work at night and we can’t get them.
“A lot of times we never can get in touch with them and we have found sometimes they have decided to move out of state. We have to close them but it doesn’t mean they can’t come back and get their cases reopened if they were to resurface. It’s probably three months we try to reach the families.”
Gannaway said there has also been an effort in recent months to cull the cases of landlords who are unable to prove claims on rented mobile homes. Proof could be a signed renter’s agreement or a claim of property on taxes.
“A lot of landlords just didn’t not pay taxes on their income,” she said. “It was a handshake and you pay me cash and you’ve got my house.”
But Gannaway said there will be another effort to make sure everyone who is eligible for help under RISE is receiving it.
“We want to help everybody we can,” she said. “We’re getting ready to do another outreach to make sure everybody who needs help is in this system and using this money to get help.”
West Virginia has completed construction of 51 homes under RISE, according to the most recent report. Of those, 48 are mobile homes and 3 are houses built on site.
The state drew down $149 million in Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Relief from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
HUD has labeled West Virginia a “slow spender,” an official designation that reflects the state’s pace toward closing out its grant.
Of the $149 million available, West Virginia still has $134,975,882.
Paula Brown, deputy director of Greenbrier County Homeland Security and Emergency Management, says people are stuck.
“I don’t know that anything is getting better,” Brown said on the telephone last week.
Clients in Greenbrier County have reported an uptick in denials in recent weeks, Brown said, adding that those are people who had received little information about their status over the many months since people were first told they could apply for help through RISE.
She said those who have been denied recently were told it was because of income, date of birth or primary residency issues that could have been straightened out far sooner.
“Only now after two years of waiting are individuals getting communication saying they’re ineligible,” Brown said.