How We Got Here: WV Rise - West Virginia Strong

How We Got Here: WV Rise

Photo Credit: Kenny Kemp for Charleston Gazette Mail

The words "WV Rise" have been all over the news these past few days. For those of us who weren't affected by the 2016 Floods, this may have been a new term, but it's been around for a while. What the program has actually been doing though? That seems to be the question. 

From Charleston Gazette Mail:

In recent days, Gov. Jim Justice and his administration temporarily froze a nearly $150 million federal flood recovery effort amid a purchasing snafu on a $17 million consulting contract and repeated concerns from constituents about promised relief that never arrived.

The following are answers to some questions to help better understand the bureaucratic problems that slogged down a massive effort after the deadly June 2016 flood, and how the state plans to revitalize the program.

What is RISE West Virginia?
The origins of the RISE West Virginia group trace back to former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s administration. In its early stages, RISE awarded grants up to $10,000 to small businesses affected by the flood, funded by the state and a private donor.

After the flood, RISE West Virginia got nearly $150 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in early 2017 to repair and reconstruct single-family housing and rental units that sustained damage. That money came from a federal Community Development Block Grant designated for disaster relief.

The funds are available to applicants in Clay, Fayette, Greenbrier, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Monroe, Nicholas, Pocahontas, Roane, Summers and Webster counties.

What happened?
According to members of Justice’s administration, some red flags popped up around RISE in early 2018, prompting an investigation.

Brian Abraham, Justice’s general counsel, said the state originally negotiated a $900,000 contract dated about March 2017 with Horne LLP, a Mississippi-based firm that helps states with natural disaster response. However, that contract only spans part of several pieces of work to be done.

Abraham said an employee of the Commerce Department went on to sign a final contract beefed up to about $17 million from the original $900,000. Neither the state Purchasing Division nor the state attorney general approved that change; both of them were required to sign off.

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