New HUD Guidelines Bring Delayed Block Grants Closer

Operation Blue Roof workers install tarps on storm-damaged homes in the territory. (Source file photo)
Operation Blue Roof workers install tarps on storm-damaged homes in the territory. (Source file photo)

The U.S.Department of Housing and Urban Development has published its guidelines for the dispersal of $774.1 million in Community Development Block Grant funding for mitigation activities in the Virgin Islands, according to Delegate Stacey Plaskett’s office.

“In the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, for the first time, Congress directed that some of the CDBG disaster recovery funding be used for mitigation activities aimed at helping communities withstand future disasters, in addition to rebuilding what was lost,” Plaskett said.

This move brings the funding closer to availability, but there are still hurdles to jump.

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In early August, HUD Secretary Ben Carson announced HUD would delay the aid to the U.S. Virgin Islands due to corruption and arrests in neighboring Puerto Rico and concerns about whether the USVI had the capacity to absorb and use the funds. He said HUD would release the funding in two waves; one for storm-affected states and a second, later one for Puerto Rico and the USVI.

According to Plaskett’s news release, the territory’s rebuilding efforts have been hampered by long chains of subcontractors, creating ambiguous contractual relationships, difficulty in oversight and delays in payment to workers on the ground. (See: Long Chains of Recovery Subcontractors Make For Kafkaesque Nightmare.)

But earlier this month, Plaskett released a statement saying Carson had informed her that HUD would issue a notice, required by Congress, with requirements and conditions to access the funding.

Tuesday, Plaskett said her office worked with House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters to convince HUD that the Virgin Islands should be decoupled from unrelated issues in Puerto Rico, and that any additional administrative requirements related to capacity issues in the Virgin Islands should be tailored specifically to address those issues.

HUD’s guidelines include conditions such as increased staff capacity and citizenship engagement requirements.

“The V.I. Office of Disaster Recovery and the V.I. Housing Finance Agency have done a tremendous job to improve financial controls and procurement processes, monitor sub-recipients, assist with increased staffing, and provide other assistance needed to safeguard all federal disaster recovery funds,” she said.

The money will help the U.S. Virgin Islands address needs for housing, public services, and infrastructure, she said.

“The federal government must continue to serve an ongoing role in supporting the people of the Virgin Islands as we recover,” Plaskett said.

While this is a step forward, the guidelines must still be met before money hits the ground, she added.

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