County misspending costing it new HUD funding for social service programs
By Dan Dolan
Miami-Dade social service programs won't get a cent in US Community Development grants next year because the county broke federal spending rules and is being forced to pay back $12 million, government officials say.
That means hundreds of existing neighborhood programs for children, senior citizens, crime prevention, health care, recreation and other things will have to find new sources of funding or go out of business, said Cynthia Curry, the senior advisor to the county manager.
On top of that, no new applications for public service projects will be underwritten with Community Development grants in 2007, Ms. Curry said. The funding moratorium will last until the county repays the US Department of Housing and Urban Development $12 million in misspent grant money, Ms. Curry said.
"We have to clean this up and pay back all the money before we can go forward," Ms. Curry said. "We're removing federal allocations from certain social projects to do this."
According to public records, a federal audit conducted this year revealed Miami-Dade has been spending too much Community Development grant money on social services for at least three years.
The federal government imposes a 15% cap on the amount of Community Development grant funds that can be used for public service programs. But Miami-Dade exceeded that limit in 2004, 2005 and this year because staffers weren't on top of things, Ms. Curry said.
In 2005 Miami-Dade spent almost 26% of its total Community Development grant allocation on social programs, the federal review revealed. That figure jumped to about 35% this year. Now, the US government is demanding its money back.
And Miami-Dade has no choice but to comply, county Budget Director Jennifer Glazer-Moon said. She said the county will start the process this month by yanking funding from more than 90 agencies, sending $4.9 million in cash back to the federal government to cover 2005 and 2006.
Outstanding obligations to programs that were promised federal money this year will be wiped clean, Ms. Glazer-Moon said. However, she said, the programs will be paid any balance due from the county's general revenues.
Next year is a different story.
"There is no money at all in the Community Development grant budget for public services in 2007," Ms. Glazer-Moon said. "This frees up money to help pay the federal government and bring us back under the cap. It fixes the problem."
However, public service programs currently receiving Community Development money may not be left high and dry, she said. The county is increasing its 2007 contribution to the Alliance for Human Services (AHS), which helps finance public service projects, from $17 million to $21 million to help cover any shortfall, she said.
"Although we're increasing the payment to the Alliance for Human Services, it must be absolutely clear that there is no guarantee public service programs currently receiving Community Development funds will get money from the AHS," Ms. Glazer-Moon said. "We recognize the services provided by these programs meet vital social needs and are essential to the well-being of our community. We are doing everything we can to ensure the services continue."
Ms. Glazer-Moon said repayments will be applied to county's community development line of credit with the federal government and remain part of Miami-Dade's over-all community development allocation.
So the county, she said, is not losing any federal money. However, it will still be $12 million behind since money already given to public service programs will come from the county's own coffers.
"We've recommended applying the money we put back into our federal line of credit to affordable housing grants," Ms. Glazer-Moon said. "That's a priority for our community."
And so is making sure Miami-Dade doesn't wind up in financial trouble again, Ms. Glazer-Moon said. As a result of the problem, her office has begun to monitor Community Development grant allocations for the first time. Spending is reviewed monthly and quarterly, she said.
But five county employees, including county commission staffers, have said that's only part of the solution. The workers, who asked not to be named, said county commissioners' requests for added funding for social projects in their districts have contributed to the over-spending on grants.
A similar situation occurred about 10 years ago when county officials raided Miami International Airport's Federal Aviation Administration piggy bank to the tune of about $5 million to help finance a wide array of social programs. A federal review of those expenditures resulted in a demand for the money to be repaid to the Federal Aviation Administration. It was.
"Basically, the community development grant problem is an oversight issue," Ms. Curry said. "It is caused in large part by the departmental staff and we have to address it. We have to be more up front with the county commission when they ask us for funding for these kinds of projects."