In June 2020, Commissioners Court approved the Rental Assistance Program as recommended by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Committee. A total of $15 million in CARES Act funds were set aside to provide rental assistance to County residents who were impacted by hardships resulting from COVID-19. This funding was increased to $40 million in August 2020 and decreased by $30 million in December 2020. The program was initially designed to provide rental assistance of up to $1,000 for the period of April through August 2020. However, the maximum household award was later increased to $1,900 and the period was extended to September through November 2020.
The county contracted with BakerRipley to administer the program in July 2020. The contract created a subrecipient relationship between the County and BakerRipley, whereby BakerRipley reported to the County and the County reported to the US Treasury Department. Per 2 CFR 200.332(d)(2) the pass-through entity, Harris County, is responsible for following-up and ensuring that the subrecipient takes timely and appropriate action on all these deficiencies pertaining to the Federal Grants provided to the subrecipient that are detected through audits, on-site reviews, and written confirmation of the recipient.
Payments to BakerRipley were based upon a percentage of the total program funds dispersed to applicants, up to $2.25 million. Additionally, the contract outlined specific requirements for the Program Administration.
After the program ended in December of 2020, the County contracted with BakerRIpley for two additional rental assistance programs. The Emergency Rental Assistance Programs (ERAP) Round 1 was funded for a total of $28.4 million, with BakerRipleys compensation at $1.74 million. The ERAP Round 2 was funded for a total of $33.2 million with BakerRIpley’s compensation at $2.42 million.
The County Administrator, David Berry provided the following context, “The CARES program was announced in April and the agreement with BakerRIpley was approved in July with a quick deadline to get all the money out by December 2020. Program design, system design, program administration, and compliance monitoring all had to be collapsed and run concurrently to meet the program deadlines.”
From Guidehouse (consultants) findings, in a matter of several months BakerRIpley and the Catholic Charities had made overpayments in the total of $864,511. To put this into perspective, in a 6-month period the nonprofit made nearly a million in overpayments to landlords and applicants.
Overpayments to Landlords- 207 cases
Duplicate Payments-317 cases
Payments were intended to be capped at $1,900. BakerRipley subsequently modified their system if record to properly cap payments.
Payments were issues over the maximum amount of $1,900 - 376 cases
Payments for months not owed- 11 cases
Payments beyond allowable time frame- 226 cases
The Consultants who were brought on to conduct the review of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, were Guidehouse LLP, they were paid a total of $558,000 to conduct “compliance monitoring, technical assistance and testing support” Just in the past year, the firm has received nearly $3 million in contracts from the County. Guidehouse also helped out with the Harvey funding, if you are catching my drift of where I am going….
After the audit report was conducted, County Officials have stated the nonprofits had taken Guidehouse’s recommendations. Though, there has been no follow-up to see where the program is at with overpayments, and as you can see the County continues to pay out $100s of millions into rental assistance programs here in Harris County.,
Why am I not surprised to see Catholic Charities name pop up here?
Spectacular reporting, Melissa! Keep your foot on the gas.