Florida Sen. Bill Nelson is requesting a federal investigation of the state’s $1 billion Hardest Hit program, which is geared at helping unemployed and underemployed homeowners pay their mortgages.
Nelson sent a letter to the special inspector general of the Troubled Assets Relief Program saying he is concerned about who is receiving Hardest Hit assistance and that money isn’t being awarded fast enough.
As of March 1, $230 million, or 23 percent of the total $1 billion, had been spent or encumbered.
About 9,050 homeowners have been approved for money out of 44,854 that have applied. There are 11,953 applications currently in the review process.
“Yet Florida posted the nation’s highest state foreclosure rate for the sixth consecutive month in February,” Nelson wrote.
The Florida Housing Finance Corporation administers the Hardest Hit program. Announced in February 2010, the plan gave money to 17 states and the District of Columbia. Florida was one of the last states to implement its program, opening it statewide in April 2011.
Nelson also says in his letter that “felons, tax scofflaws and people with histories of running up debts they can’t repay,” are receiving Hardest Hit money, according to a Tampa Bay Times story that found at least 15 people in the Tampa area who received money despite felony records for fraud, possession of child pornography and other offenses.
Cecka Green, a spokeswoman for the corporation, said the program has been reviewed twice by the the U.S. Department of Treasury, as well as the state’s Office of the Auditor General with no findings that assistance was provided to ineligible homeowners.
“We are working tirelessly to put this federal assistance into the hands of the homeowners who qualify for it, and are confident the funding will be properly expended by the December 31, 2017, deadline,” she said.
The Palm Beach Post has repeatedly written about the challenges the Florida Housing Finance Corporation has faced in putting the program in place, from banks’ reluctance to sign up to Gov. Rick Scott’s input into the plan, which forced a retooling and delay of its statewide launch.
Hardest Hit applications are available online at flhardesthithelp.org or by calling (877) 863-5244.