MEMA director refutes claims against $29.9 million program

MEMA director refutes claims against $29.9 million program

MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Lee Smithson is refuting a report by the federal Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General regarding the Coastal Retrofit Mississippi Program.

According to a reported dated August 10, the OIG claims that the Federal Emergency Management Agency should suspend grant payments on the $29.9 million program until funds can be accounted for.

The purpose of the Coastal Retrofit Program was to strengthen 2,000 homes against wind damage in the six coastal counties. However, following complaints of the mishandling of the funding, an investigation began.

In a 16-page document, the OIG claims the state allowed one employee to have sole authority over the program, influencing payments and approval. The report also states that while $31.5 million in state funds has been spent to work on 945 homes, only $957,776 in FEMA reimbursements have been claimed. Additionally, the OIG says the state has not provided documentation to a total of $30.5 million paid to contractors.

In 2012, WLOX News Now interviewed homeowners who claimed the contractor hired by the state to retrofit homes was charging double what other companies were charging for the work. Repairs during that time were not being completed, even after homeowners paid their 25 percent of the project.

FEMA has recommended that all payments to the program be suspended until adequate documentation is provided, 'provide assurances' that work is complete and in compliance, provide a reasonable explanation for why less the half of the homes have been completed, and suspend all payments on the $176,446 expected for administrative costs and management of the program.

Smithson sent out a statement Thursday evening, saying in part,

"While the OIG recommends deobligating 29 million dollars [sic] in federal funds, we are confident that most of the money will be deemed eligible by FEMA and the remaining funds will be recovered by the state.

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