CHARLESTON, W.Va. – In 2016, Connie Sloan was invited from her home Elkview. Water was rising 10 feet high. She escaped in a neighbour's fishing boat with her two dogs, Mingo and Babe. The house, which was biased and formative, was later demolished.
Almost three years later, Sloan is 80 years old still waiting for a word on federal funds that could compensate his loss.
She spent a lot of that time thinking about mystery.
“My fundamental question is why did they transfer money from this FEMA derogation that was meant for houses and that they were transferred to other things?” Sloan said this week.
“How do you build funds to provide homes for people – and whose homes have fallen down now – and decide that we are going to buy a pile of generators?” T
This is a question that has been directed by West Virginia legislators in recent weeks.
During a meeting of the Joint Committee on Flooding at the end of April, the law asked questions again about Hazard Mitigation Grant funds and how West Virginia ended the emphasis on infrastructural projects across housing.
“I have little frustration that no one asked me to say who was deciding the projects in the last three years, when I asked them,” said delegate Kayla Kessenger, R-Fayette, after that meeting.
Hazard Mitigation Grants are intended to help communities avoid future damage from disasters. There are different ways of using the grants. Following the devastating flood of 2016, state officials held a series of forums to talk to residents about housing.
Flood victims applied for grants that could result in purchasers, houses being raised or houses being flood proofed.
Most are still waiting.
This is different from the controversy about RISE West Virginia, although both relate to millions of dollars sources that could help cure the state.
RISE has money from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, represented by the Disaster Relief Community Development Grants. The money remains dedicated to housing, but progress is slow and frustrating.
At the end of last week, the number of housing cases in RISE was 479. It is estimated that fifty houses have been completed.
From the end of 2016 to much of 2017, West Virginia highlighted Hazard Mitigation Grants to help flood victims with their housing. Then millions of dollars became available for RISE, and the priorities changed.
This is described, but there is not enough detail for West Virginia flood victims or the legislators who represent them.
The decision to change priorities took place during a twice-weekly meeting in the Capitol state conference room in 2017.
Reports on any written record
This meeting is described in detail, particularly in the Federal Emergency Management Agency newsletter Forward Recovery.
“Due to the complexity of the situation, the meeting was held to ensure that there was a holistic strategy to use these funds,” wrote FEMA III Region officials in the newsletter.
In the last few weeks MetroNews asked FEMA and West Virginia Division of Country Security and Emergency Management to obtain further details, including written documents from the meeting.
Responding to MetroNews issues early last month, Emergency Management spokesman Laura Lipscomb briefly described the priority change and the reasons for it.
However, she wrote, “There is no documentation on this change of priority. There was verbal guidance from the leadership that informed the application process. ”
The same question for FEMA did not provide any documentation.
“We agree with the state that there was no official documentation on priorities,” FEMA spokesman said in e-mail May 6. We have, and do, speak to our state colleagues on projects, priorities, roles and responsibilities every day. ”
Infrastructure and housing
Priorities had a practical impact on West Virginia flood relief.
Last month, officials with West Virginia Division of the Country Security and Emergency Management provided a list of Hazard Mitigation Grants projects.
While the grant is designated for the 2016 floods, the funding may be from anywhere in the state, not just from the flood zone.
As officials last week reported to legislators, $ 69.6 million of mitigation grant funds were available at West Virginia, including a state game.
Of this, the vast majority of the money is focused on infrastructure projects.
Infrastructure may include projects such as water system improvements or flood control projects. Many communities asked backup generators.
There is a further $ 21 million in projects deemed to be “over subscribed.” This is essentially the number of projects on a waiting list.
Each of these is called “property”.
Property related projects would include the acquisition, demolition, elevation or reconstruction of improved building standards.
So that means that many homeowners are flooded waiting for money that might or may never come.
West Virginia lawmakers from both parties were curious about how the priorities came about.
“Yes, we're curious,” said delegate Dean Jeffries, R-Kanawha, co-chair of the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding. “Did that happen? Was there really a change? Was it re-manufactured? We want to tackle this. ”
Jeffries described ingredients that are still struggling with housing issues. The day he spoke, he had only learned two people who lived in camps without any water.
“People should not live like this three years after the flood,” he said on the phone.
“People come first. Infrastructure is important. I do not say not. But if people have to give up and leave here, our tax base goes. ”
He wants to get better answers.
“If that is a decision,” he said, “someone should be able to respond to that.”
Similar responses came from other law-makers.
“Folks have been told that the governor made the decision. I have people telling me that DHSEM made that decision. But I don't know any of these are conclusive, ”said Senator Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier. “I've been asking about that for about two years now.”
He said West Virginia should focus on ensuring that housing needs are met.
“These people who are on the list are, in their view, over-subscribed as promised to have their needs taken into account and prioritized,” said Baldwin.
“Housing number one is number one. You must have a place to bed your head each night. ”
Senator Glenn Jeffries, D-Kanawha, agreed on the ongoing housing problems.
“They should be a priority. We need to look after our people first, care for our families, ”he said. “Then, the remaining thing we serve infrastructure projects.”
During the Floods Joint Legislation Committee last week, Kessinger made a number of ways to find out how priorities were set.
She expressed frustration after the meeting that she had not received clear answers.
This asked her:
Kessinger: “My question is, why are we putting houses on the list too oversubscribed? And you mentioned that earlier infrastructure includes generators and things like that.
“So I think my question is a priority. I like the people on this committee, our priority is to get people in homes. So why do we place these projects on the over-subscribed list and we are already budgeting for the projects and things like that? ”
Adjutant Gen James Hoyer referred to a formula used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for weighing projects and also for earlier comments from Senator Greg Boso, R-Nicholas, describing the importance of infrastructure projects.
Hoyer: “Yes, maam, and again it was part of it – there are two things; the formula is in place but our understanding of caring for people in homes is a priority. But going back to Senator from Nicholas's point, unless we spend some money on infrastructure and unless we keep these water systems and sewage systems functional then a few hundred or a few thousand of us we are not caring for, so it is a balanced action of that piece.
“And what we're doing is going back and discouraging how this has been prioritized in the past and what we think the process should be going on.
“And once again, we have some water systems that we don't have a thousand people on if we fail to put money on them.”
Kessinger: “I'm just thinking about who makes these decisions. Apparently, why buying priority generators in certain areas to get people into a home? I understand the wastewater management and things like that, but that's my question. ”
Hoyer submitted to a subcommittee that did not establish legal persons but to review the re-substance of the Hazard Mitigation projects.
Hoyer: “That is what we will come back. Working with the subcommittee, we will come back and try to walk through everything and a way forward. ”
Kessinger: “And if we see the priorities in their homes over generators, is there a way to change that?” T
At that point, the Emergency Management Director Mike Todorovich spoke up, describing his vision of a committee that would include officials in the executive branch, as well as legislators and experts from West Virginia colleges.
“So we will not in this case again with no complete transparency,” said Todorovich.
Kessinger: “Sure, so who decides the priorities now?”
Hoyer: “I like it, that is what we have to go back from and what was previously done and responsible.”
Kessinger: “So we don't know who decided what?”
Hoyer: “I believe that the situation was that they were accepting the FEMA formula and forwarding it based on the formula used to determine the priority. But we have the answer. ”
Kessinger: “Yes, so you don't know who they are *?
Hoyer: “He would be a former director of the mitigation program.” T
MetroNews reached Hoyer on Friday to clarify how priorities were set.
Last June, when controversy over how the State's Department of Commerce was administering RISE, the Governor of Justice Hoyer presided over long-term relief.
Hoyer is providing updates, mainly to RISE, to both legislators and the public.
By phone, Hoyer was specifically asked about the November 7, 2017 meeting which was one characteristic of setting priorities.
He stated that FEMA supported this meeting, which introduced a facilitator. But he said that the focus was on how to optimize the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Relief, through HUD.
Hoyer said: “The 2017 situation was a unique situation for West Virginia's situation due to its collapse and the funding to come in.”
He said that the question came at that meeting, “How will CDB-DR money be prioritized, which will be housing, infrastructure and economic development.”
Hoyer said that one of the issues the state needs to focus on is becoming stronger for the future.
“The guide was given to me, do not just set the things we had to set, give us some things that create the path and the appropriate structure,” he said.
Hoyer spent much of his time on the telephone highlighting the legislative subcommittee established to work on disaster grant priorities.
He said he is “working with the sub-committee to find out how we got that priority and what are the best ways to address it.” T
Minutes, reports, documentation
There was a detailed description of what happened among the many documents received through requests under the Freedom of Information Act to the State Department of Commerce.
The application, prompted by the RISE controversy, was public records relating to the work of the State Resilience Office.
The application was completed last July, but as a result of the recent disaster relief issues, the documents were examined more closely.
These included a full report on what happened at the November 7, 2017 meeting. It appeared that the document had been prepared to guide further meetings over the coming months.
Just as Hoyer put down in the phone conversation with MetroNews, the report says that FEMA was in charge of the session that day and a facilitator in Cabinet and the Government's Conference Room.
The meeting was convened by the Governor of Justice.
“The predictive future governor of West Virginia discussed new development and employment opportunities,” the report says. That is the last time that justice is mentioned.
A photograph attached to the Forward Recovery section Administrator FEMA Region III, MaryAnn Tierney, together with the Governor of Justice, team chief Mike Hall, General Hoyer, Tomás Transport Secretary Tom Smith and Jimmy Gianato Homeland Security Director are on now retire.
Applicants listed in the report also include Commercial Secretary Woody Thrasher, Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy, Secretary for Environmental Protection Austin Caperton, Secretary of the RSHR Bill Crouch and Secretary DNR Stephen McDaniel.
The West Virginia conference delegation was also invited.
There is no indication that any state legislators representing the underwater communities are required to attend.
From 9 to 11 o'clock, heads of state were to discuss and agree state recovery priorities.
When the meeting started, housing was the main priority, as demonstrated by the way funding was allocated at the time. The second was the infrastructure and the third was economic development.
It would change that soon.
The whole event was inspired by the amount of money West Virginia had to draw down from the federal government for disaster relief.
The disaster was the first time that West Virginia CDBG-DR allocation, $ 149 million, received as the record note. And the largest amount of HMGP funds ever received was $ 69 million.
“Due to the complexity of the situation, the meeting was held to ensure that there was a holistic strategy for using these recovery funds.”
There were also huge requirements, although there was disagreement about the other level.
At that point, more than $ 100 million was dedicated to housing, and 1,000 houses had already rebuilt or restored 1,000 houses.
The voluntary groups performed well, state officials in late 2017 questioned the remaining housing need.
“Participants in the session questioned whether there was $ 100 million left in unmet housing needs, or if some of the funding should be re-allocated to support infrastructure and economic development,” the report noted.
Starting at 9:54 a.m., under the direction of the facilitator, the group set three priorities, in a particular order: housing, infrastructure and economic development.
The facilitator then asked the group if there could be agreement on the top three priorities.
According to the report: “General Hoyer began conversing, indicating that he was not of the view that housing was no longer the main priority.
“It pointed out, through the State VOAD and other faith-based groups, that half of the 2,000 houses damaged in the June 2016 floods were / were rebuilt. Therefore housing was no longer a priority. no longer. ”
Some of the others in the room agreed, the report says.
Further discussion confirmed that “infrastructure would be a top priority.”
The report then describes an additional talk on how this might apply to the funds under Housing and Urban Development. Experts suggested that the state had to demonstrate that housing needs had been met – “not easily done.”
The focus of these grants was through HUD like Hoyer which is described in the phone conversation with MetroNews.
The group that collected that day agreed that the Department of Commerce should work with HUD to find out what would be needed.
Last week, HUD confirmed that MetroNews had not asked West Virginia to ask the agency to focus on infrastructure. This would require an amendment to an Action Plan, essentially a contract between the state and HUD.
But gathered in a conference room at the end of 2017, state officials were moving towards an emphasis on infrastructure.
“Based on this conversation, General Hoyer suggested that infrastructure should be the top priority,” says the report. “” The group agreed. ”
So at 11:12 a.m., the group agreed on these priorities, in order:
- Economic Development
At that point, the facilitator “indicated that the time had elapsed for this meeting.”
While much of the meeting focused on recent funding from HUD, the collection was about establishing a holistic approach. The report shows changes to West Virginia's approach over available grant resources.
The five main topics include this section: “Re-ordering of Hazard Mitigation Grant Program applications.”
The specific section covering this topic states, “As a result of these meetings and the session, DHSEM WV is now looking at reapplying for grant applications.”
This was the first step listed in the process:
“WV DHSEM will review applications submitted and prioritize housing projects before housing.”
Do you want to be a priority
Connie Sloan is on the outside looking in.
She is represented as FEMA Project Number 106 as Acquisition / Demolition.
According to an update by state officials this week, the Sloans application has been “oversubscribed”, but “it has been submitted to FEMA for review where other HMGP funding is available.”
Sloan says that there is little satisfaction.
When asked if she heard anything about her status, she smiled.
“Just sitting here waiting. And then you start looking at where this money went. She remembers the turmoil, ”she said.
“It's like the old carnival competition where you take a peanut, put it in a cup and move it around with two more cups and make people out where the peanut is.”
She has moved to a new home in Elkview, but “I am paying 200 dollars a month on a piece of empty property.”
In addition, the company charges her a dollar mortgage annually for flood insurance and homeowner's insurance for the property where her house was flooded and laid down. At age 80, she is still working part-time to pay the costs.
After the flood, she recalled, officials told her that a purchase was the best option.
“The first thing they said to me was. No one said that you will be sitting here until any time, ”she said. “I think they are just waiting for us to die so that they can do anything.”