Border relief organizations were not made to provide all required documentation before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) granted them millions in humanitarian relief funds under a Biden-era program, according to a new report by the DHS Inspector General.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) handles the distribution of federal humanitarian relief funds. One of FEMA’s humanitarian relief programs, the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP), specifically provides relief funds in communities impacted by the migrant crisis at the U.S. Southwest border. Under the American Rescue Plan Act—a piece of legislation President Joe Biden proposed on his first day in office—FEMA was awarded $110 million in added humanitarian funds, of which the EFSP National Board awarded $80 million to 25 different local recipient organizations (LROs) in California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.
The DHS Inspector General reviewed about $12.9 million of the $80 million in EFSP funds granted under the American Rescue Plan. The government watchdog found signs that more than half of the money it reviewed was distributed without sufficient vetting.
“We questioned $7.4 million, or 58 percent, of the $12.9 million we reviewed because, after several attempts, we were unable to obtain the required supporting documentation,” the Inspector General’s report states (pdf).
The report specifically faults FEMA with failing to provide sufficient oversight, and instead relying on local boards and fiscal agents to enforce the funding and application guidance.
In addition to not always providing full documentation, some LROs also did not provide supporting documentation for the families and individuals to whom they provided services. The inspector general also determined some of the families and individuals that received relief money did not have a DHS encounter record.
One LRO in particular, a local government entity, accounted for about $7.3 million in claimed expenses that lacked sufficient supporting documentation. In particular, that LRO paid about $11.7 million for contractor services to handle COVID-19-related testing between May and September 2021, including $8.9 million in labor expenses.
“Instead of providing supporting documentation for its labor charges, the contractor simply calculated the labor expenses on its invoices by multiplying 24 hours per day for every employee deployed to the testing site by each employee’s labor rate,” the inspector general report states.
“At our request, the government entity requested the supporting documentation for the reimbursed labor expenses, but the contractor could not provide documentation to prove it actually paid the employees the amount it was reimbursed,” the report continues. “The contractor did provide records for some employees deployed to the testing site, which amounted to about $1.5 million. However, we questioned the remaining $7.3 million in labor expenses because the contractor did not provide supporting documentation.”
The Inspector General investigated 15 LROs with regard to how they provided food and shelter to families and individuals. The report found that one LRO did not respond to requests for supporting documentation for the number of families and individuals it served. Two LROs didn’t retain supporting documentation for the number of families and individuals served. Two more LROs kept the supporting documentation but did not record the names of the individuals it served, meaning the Inspector General couldn’t confirm the eligibility of the people who received federal funds under the American Rescue Plan program.
The Inspector General report recommended FEMA work to find documentation to resolve the $7.4 million in questioned costs, and to incorporate controls to ensure expenses are properly documented in the future. The agency concurred with the inspector general’s assessments and is reportedly working to address the recommendations.
NTD News reached out to FEMA for comment regarding the findings of the inspector general’s report, but the agency did not respond before this article was published.