Oregon Secretary of State auditors unearthed millions of misappropriated dollars and a lack of oversight and accountability in four state agencies including emergency rental assistance spending at the Oregon Housing and Family Services, according to an audit released Wednesday.
Auditors determined the emergency rental assistance spending program, run by Oregon Housing and Family Services, lacked the necessary safeguards to prevent or detect misspent money.
The agency, for example, did not monitor community organizations that received rent payments and overpaid landlords. The auditors identified $11.2 million in questionable spending, including overpayments, across the state, the report said.
In its response, the housing agency blamed the misspending on the pandemic, short-staffing and the rapid launch of the program to prevent homelessness.
“The work required unprecedented action that sometimes fell short of our usual standards for client-assistance payment compliance,” the agency said. “OHCS will use these lessons moving forward, should we operate future emergency programs, to move towards best practices,” the Oregon Capital Chronicle reported.
In all, state auditors flagged $35.2 million of questionable spending within the Oregon Department of Human Services, the Oregon Health Authority, Oregon Housing and Community Services and the Higher Education Coordinating Commission. Auditors found suspect expenditures in federally funded programs that provide emergency rental assistance, help with utility bills, and grants for drug addiction treatment programs.
“Our financial audits are a critical part of keeping Oregon government accountable to its people,” said Audits Director Kip Memmott in a statement. “This year’s statewide audits found some significant issues that we think are important to bring to the attention of Oregonians, the governor and the legislature.”
The review of federally funded programs comes after the pandemic, when federal funding to Oregon grew and state officials scrambled to get money to help people stay in their homes and have access health care. In fiscal year 2022, Oregon received $21 billion in federal aid, nearly double what the state usually received.
The $35.2 million – called “questioned costs” – includes expenditures that were paid with federal dollars and should have been funded by the state. They include overpayments to landlords, misappropriated money for renovations, and money that’s not tracked appropriately.
“It serves as a flag for federal funding agencies to review the findings and then decide whether the costs are allowable,” said Tracey Gates, a principal auditor, in a statement.