Flood Aid: Foot-dragging should be investigated

Nearly a year and a half ago, West Virginians learned to our dismay and anger that state government was sitting on more than $149 million in federal aid intended for victims of June 2016 floods that hit several southern counties hard. Gov. Jim Justice claimed he was furious. He sacked the agency head blamed at least in part for the delay. He instructed the West Virginia National Guard to take over the RISE WV program to help those whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the high water.

At first, it appeared the pace of using the federal money and repairing or replacing homes had picked up.

But now, we know the foot-dragging has continued. In late June — a full year after the National Guard was put in charge of RISE — it was disclosed that the program STILL has cases open. It has completed work on just 51 homes. Of that total, at least 46 were not stick-built houses but rather, mobile homes.

It can take months to build a conventional house. A mobile home can be purchased, a lot prepared for it, and a family living in it in a week or less.

Of the more than $149 million in federal funds made available for flood relief in fall 2017, the state had spent just $134,975,882 by late June. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officials have our state on a “slow spender” list.

If all of this does not make you angry, it should. And the folks hit last week by flash flooding in Grant, Pendleton, Preston, Tucker and Randolph counties are justified in being a bit worried about how long they might have to wait.

How is it possible, more than a year after Justice and state legislators said, in effect, that they were mad as hell and weren’t going to take it anymore, that victims of flooding that took place THREE YEARS AGO are still taking it on the chin?

All sorts of explanations, most of them blaming bureaucratic red tape, have been offered. If the rules are that harmful, the rules must be changed. Certainly if the fault lies with the bureaucrats themselves, well, they should be out of a job — and quickly.

West Virginia legislators have spent the first half of this year concentrating on other aspects of the public’s business, including school improvement. If it takes that long, they should devote the remainder of 2019 to finding out why RISE fell flat on its face — and doing whatever it takes to correct the problem.