A federal inspector general is urging FEMA to try to recoup nearly $1 million in hazard mitigation grants paid out in St. Tammany Parish after finding that parish officials didn’t follow proper guidelines for spending the hurricane relief cash.
The report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, which was released last week, questions $929,379 in payments made in St. Tammany in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Gustav and Ike in 2008. A total of $15.3 million in grants were awarded to the state, which in turn gave the money to the parish for certain projects.
The OIG’s report says the parish “generally met FEMA’s eligibility requirements, and the parish’s project management generally complied with applicable regulations and guidelines.” However, it says, in several instances, the parish did not properly account for or spend the grant money as required by federal guidelines.
The biggest chunk of the questionable spending was paid to property owners who did not maintain their flood insurance. Money also went to property owners who had already paid for projects with money from other sources, and the parish overpaid for at least one project, the OIG report says.
In the case of the flood insurance, neither the parish nor the state verified that the owners of four properties receiving grants had maintained their coverage as required by federal law. That oversight accounts for $504,896 of the questionable spending. The report notes that state officials have begun to take steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
The report also questions $92,140 in grants the parish awarded to three property owners who had already received rebuilding money from other sources. That amount includes about $35,000 awarded to a homeowner who had received $239,900 from another source for a property that cost only $173,080 to rebuild. Another property owner received $26,700 more than he should have, and a third got $30,000 more than he should have, the report says.
The report also identifies about $320,000 in what it calls “unsupported project costs,” or costs for which the parish did not obtain or submit supporting documentation. Parish officials told auditors that they have corrected their procedures to fix this problem.
The report was issued to FEMA and to St. Tammany Parish, both of which are preparing responses. The OIG’s report notes that FEMA agrees with the findings but rejects the recommendation that it should attempt to recover the funds.
Parish spokesman Ronnie Simpson said the parish began working to improve its policies for dealing with federal recovery aid in 2008.
“Certainly the program has improved a lot in the last 10 years,” he said.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.