Audit: Montgomery County properly handled $93M in CARES Act funds; FBI probe continues

Montgomery County received a clean audit from the Ohio Auditor of State for 2020, a year that included nearly $93 million in federal CARES Act spending.

The recently released audit from Ohio Auditor of State Keith Faber identified no oversight problems with the county’s CARES Act spending, including a rental assistance program that a Dayton Daily News investigation this year found paid money to landlords who were ineligible or who allegedly didn’t pass the assistance along to their tenants.

“The Rental Assistance Program was looked at initially, but another agency was already addressing the issues and didn’t need our Special Investigations Unit’s assistance, so it was closed on our end as we wait on that completion and results,” said Auditor of State spokeswoman Allie Dumski when asked about those findings. “The remaining work we completed on the program identified no findings for the report.”

Dumski did not respond to a follow-up question asking what agency is looking into it. Records obtained by the Dayton Daily News show the newspaper’s findings are under investigation by the FBI.

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Montgomery County officials heralded the auditor’s findings that their programs were operated in accordance with federal guidelines.

“What this means for Montgomery County residents is that Auditor Faber and his team found no major discrepancies in our programs and internal controls,” Montgomery County Commission President Judy Dodge said.

In addition to CARES Act spending, other major federal programs reviewed included the Social Services Block Grant, Child Support Enforcement and transportation spending.

“To have a good end-of-year audit, especially when that year included the quick distribution of nearly $93 million in CARES Act funds, really speaks to the caliber of our employees and partners agencies that help us get support dollars to the people who need them the most,” Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert said.

Colbert noted that the county’s CARES Act team processed about 3,000 applications to help individuals and agencies impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The state audit notes Montgomery County used CARES Act funds to provide $13.2 million to small businesses; $9.3 million on housing and utility assistance; $13.7 million to nonprofits; $6.9 million to farms; and nearly $35 million to schools, health care and other agencies.

Another $5 million went to rental assistance to help keep people in their homes. A Dayton Daily News review of this program found payments went to owners of abandoned homes, and to landlords whose tenants said they or another agency continued paying rent.

This includes some rental units on Section 8 vouchers administered by Greater Dayton Premier Management, the local public housing authority.

The Dayton Daily News used Ohio public records law to request from GDPM any internal review of whether Section 8 and the CARES Act program double-paid landlords for rent. The agency responded with email communication showing GDPM Executive Director Jennifer Heapy providing program records to FBI agents.

The FBI won’t comment: “As a matter of policy we cannot confirm or deny the existence of a potential investigation,” said FBI spokesman Todd Lindgren.

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In response to the newspaper’s investigation, Montgomery County built additional safeguards into its application process and increased cross-checking program records with GDPM.

In addition to federal spending, the state audit reviewed other major county programs including the Human Services Levy and Department of Job and Family Services expenditures.

“This audit is really a testament to the level of professionalism and attention to detail that our employees bring to work each day,” said Tom Kelley, assistant county administrator for human services.

A management letter accompanying the audit identified minor recommendations to improve oversight and accounting practices, but nothing that rose to the level of an audit finding.

“Are there some areas we can improve upon? Of course, and we have already began making significant strides to address the few deficiencies noted by the Auditor of State,” Colbert said.

“But for a county of this size and the number of budget adjustments we had to make last year as a result of the pandemic, along with the institution of the CARES Act programs and the $92.8 million we needed to quickly distribute, I think we did a great job and I think our citizens should be proud of that.”

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