JOBOB: Oregon cannot trace $426 million in Covid money: report

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  • 01/07/2024

A recently released audit on Thursday has uncovered significant discrepancies in the handling of COVID-19 emergency rental assistance (ERA) funds by Oregon’s Housing and Community Services (OHCS). The audit, conducted by the Oregon Audits Division, reveals that the state agency lost track of $426 million allocated for the ERA program.

According to the audit, OHCS was unable to determine the extent to which the $426 million was utilized for the intended rental assistance program. It also pointed out that the agency lacked oversight and controls, making it uncertain whether the spending adhered to federal guidelines or how much emergency funding reached eligible applicants. Moreover, OHCS failed to reliably determine the number of total applications that received payments or the households that were assisted.

“OHCS distributed $426 million in emergency rental assistance as of June 2023,” the audit states. “However, because of limited oversight and controls, OHCS cannot be certain spending met federal guidelines, or how much emergency funding went to eligible applicants. Also, the agency has not reliably determined how many total applications were paid, or households helped.”

Although the ERA program concluded after the COVID-19 pandemic in 2024, the funds’ mismanagement has left renters in the state without the intended relief. The audit also concluded that Oregon is grappling with a housing crisis due to factors such as insufficient housing supply to meet demand, inadequate funding for affordable housing development and preservation, and an increasing number of people at risk of homelessness.

In response to the audit’s findings, OHCS Executive Director Andrea Bell defended the department’s efforts while acknowledging the need for improvement. Bell did, however, pledge to implement several recommendations to enhance the department’s operations.

The mismanagement of funds in Oregon adds to a broader issue observed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Across the nation, hundreds of billions of dollars were allocated for various forms of pandemic funding. An Associated Press report from last year suggested that over $280 billion in COVID-19 relief funding may have been potentially stolen by fraudsters. The combination of fraud and incompetence within the agencies responsible for handling such significant sums highlights a troubling trend of financial mismanagement in the country.

This piece first appeared at TPUSA.

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