District gives HUD accountability plan for AIDS funding

By Darryl Fears
Sunday, December 20, 2009; C03

Federal housing officials said Friday that they are encouraged by the District's revised plan to account for millions of dollars in AIDS funding and to monitor the accounts of partners that deliver services to people with the disease.

Housing and Urban Development Assistant Secretary Mercedes Márquez threatened last month to withhold $12.2 million in federal funding unless the District improved how it tracks spending by AIDS programs and monitored the services they were responsible for delivering.

Márquez set Friday as a deadline for the city to prove that it could be more responsible with federal money. Final approval of the plan is pending.

Concern over the District's use of federal funds was raised after a Washington Post investigation showed that some groups contracted to provide services failed to get a business license and file tax returns. Others gave false information about employee résumés and consulting contracts, or spent lavishly on travel and executive salaries.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty vowed to conduct an investigation into whether the city's service providers mishandled funds, but HUD wanted the District to revise its accounting procedures immediately.

This summer, the city failed to provide a required audit for recipients of more than a half-million dollars in federal funding. HUD officials also said the District needed to demand a timely audit from its AIDS service providers each year.

The loss of the funding would have had effect beyond the city. The District shares the $12.2 million with Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties, as well as Prince George's County, which oversees services in much of Southern Maryland. The money helps fund the Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS program, which is crucial because the housing waiting list for indigent AIDS victims is about three years long.

Over the past month, D.C. Council member David I. Catania (I-At Large) addressed HUD's concerns point by point in weekly meetings of his health committee. He and D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration Director Shannon Hader also met with Márquez, drafted a revised plan, responded to questions from federal officials and submitted a final plan about 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

Catania said he never felt "our funding was in serious jeopardy." HUD was rightly concerned about paperwork, he said, but "we're not talking about graft or corruption or waste. We're talking about simple procedures and documentation.

"I think the officials who deal with the District felt disrespected when information they asked for wasn't delivered. We have to show a greater respect toward our funder. If this happens in the future, the official responsible will be terminated."

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