Thousands of Covid relief dollars unaccounted for, wasted in

RICHMOND, Va. — Thousands and thousands of federal pounds flowed into the City of Richmond all through the starting of the COVID-19 pandemic to assist those who ended up battling. Practically two years later, the city’s watchdog found black holes in the file-maintaining of how that income was spent.

The city obtained about $40 million in CARES Act funding in the summer time of 2020 which was meant to provide as immediate assist for impacted Richmonders. By December 2020, the metropolis experienced now long gone via 94% of it. CARES Act bucks strictly aimed to include required expenditures incurred owing to the community overall health unexpected emergency between March 2020 and December 2021.

4th District Council Member Kristen Nye, who sits on the audit committee, said the council and the mayor directed the metropolis auditor, Lou Lassiter, to look into how the dollars was invested in Richmond to catch any problems prior to having to file experiences with the federal governing administration.

“The total intent of performing the audit is not to do a ‘gotcha.’ It truly is much more to locate the holes in govt and to make positive that as we move forward, that they are set,” Nye claimed.

Right after reviewing the accomplished audit, Nye said she was worried about gaps in dollars distribution and that most of the troubles stated in the audit concerned the Business office of Local community Prosperity Developing, the metropolis division which addresses poverty.

“Since then, you can find been a modify in leadership in that workplace, as effectively as some inside controls that have been put with each other,” Nye claimed. “I personally will be monitoring that division.”

Lassiter discovered concerns in the following regions:

  • The metropolis gave just about $20 million to third-party contractors to give services through the pandemic. Nonetheless, there was not enough oversight or monitoring of grants to make sure recipients used the revenue in accordance with standards shown in the contracts and in compliance with federal recommendations.
  • At least $84,000 expended on rental support was noncompliant with federal criteria or wasted on replicate payments. Lassiter pointed out that the amount is based mostly on a smaller sample, and the complete amount of ineligible payments may perhaps be significantly higher.
  • Staff associates who processed support for corporations and non-gains also participated in the screening and approval of applications. Lassiter also stated he could not ascertain if $50,000 in company aid was invested allowably owing to a deficiency of documentation of how the cash was spent.
  • A lot more than $400,000 applied to support Richmond General public Educational institutions learners with digital discovering was not put in proficiently. Lassiter stated correct controls, processes, and coaching have been not in location to guarantee the software operated proficiently.
  • The metropolis did a poor task retaining documents of extra than $1 million well worth of present playing cards dispersed to citizens. The auditor could not account for perhaps dozens of cards that could complete up to $44,000.

“My most important fears came from the products that were associated to income, like gift playing cards that had been dispersed. There ended up surely some holes in tracking who received them,” Nye explained.

Mayor Levar Stoney agreed with the auditor that the metropolis corridor has place for advancement in dollars management.

“I think it comes down to much better bookkeeping, suitable? And so much more education on how we go about bookkeeping to make sure we can continue to keep track of all those pounds,” Mayor Stoney stated.

The mayor also defended the do the job of crucial employees through the peak of the disaster.

“Remember, this was an unexpected emergency condition. And area government, that’s wherever the rubber meets the road. We experienced to phase in ideal absent, make sure folks stayed in their houses, make certain folks got fed, and we did exactly that,” Stoney stated.

Lassiter created eight suggestions in which city departments can far better doc and manage money in the long term. He also recommended the town eliminate the use of reward playing cards for aid shifting ahead.

All tips ended up recognized by metropolis hall leaders, and Nye reported she will make sure every single modify is met by the deadlines set forth by Lassiter.

“It’s actually crucial as we continue to choose these ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] dollars from the federal federal government that we are shelling out them properly and that there is accountability for all those people dollars,” Nye explained.