Officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from its headquarters in Washington, D.C., as well as from its San Francisco, Denver, and Hawaii offices were on island Feb. 4-5, 2020, to conduct the first “Grantee Strategy Launch,” a series of focused technical assistance training on the ground aimed at 2018 and 2019 new grantees under the Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery Program.
According to HUD, “the goals of the strategy visits are to ensure compliance and efficient management of the disaster recovery funds, while, at the same time, maintaining compliance with state and local policies and procedures,” through guidance on the proper submissions of pre-grant financial control certifications, procurement processes, and action plans.
The NMI CDBG-DR team led by Northern Marianas Housing Corp. corporate director Jesse Palacios and deputy corporate director Zenie Mafnas welcomed the first technical assistance strategy visit as the officials explained the myriad of administrative grant requirements through the various prior voluminous Federal Register notices. NMHC is equally pleased that the requisite Federal Register notice specific to the NMI DR grant allocation was finally issued and became effective on Feb. 3, 2020, which officially triggers the timeclock of deadlines that must be met in the next few weeks.
“We appreciate them personally coming to visit us on the ground to provide our DR team with the technical assistance in order to successfully submit the CNMI’s Action Plan, as well as guidance on effective and compliant program policies and procedures,” Palacios said.
The first technical assistance strategy session also outlined what other basic efforts grantees must undertake and how the HUD TA providers assist in reviewing moving forward now that the timeline starts ticking. These include, but are not limited to, program management and design, requisite corresponding policies and procedures to the signature Action Plan, process mapping, and staffing considerations. The NMI DR team capped the strategy training by sharing the status of DR pre-award progress to date, including securing valuable data sharing agreements with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Small Business Administration to avoid duplication of benefits for potential program applicants, drafting primary housing policies and procedures, selecting a professional consultant to assist draft the Action Plan. NMHC has also started work on the paramount financial management and internal controls to prevent fraud, waste, and abuse of DR grant funding, finalizing the scope and parameters of the requisite comprehensive and robust DR website to automate applications and work processes and augment citizen participation and program transparency, and hiring of initial professional and technical managerial team to ensure efficient and optimum programmatic operations, among others.
The Northern Marianas was granted the largest one-time grant in its history as a U.S. commonwealth with a $243-plus million allocation to the CDBG-DR program. It is a flexible HUD-funded program provided as a special appropriation by the U.S. Congress to states, insular areas, counties, and municipalities to assist with long term recovery, disaster relief, restoration of housing and infrastructure and economic revitalization in the most distressed and impacted communities following a presidentially-declared disaster. It allows grantees to deploy funding to carry out a wide range of recovery activities and prioritizes low- and moderate- income persons and geographies. (PR)