A program that helps pay poor Americans' housing bills so they can look for work has doled out more than $100 million each year, but it has no way of telling whether the aid helped improve the recipients' employment opportunities.
Officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development have kept such poor records that they don't know how many people they are actually assisting or whether the program's premise of housing aid as a pathway to employment really works, investigators for the Government Accountability Office warn.
"HUD's data for approximately one-third of these families did not indicate whether the family successfully completed the program or otherwise exited the public housing or voucher programs," the GAO said about two of the grant programs.
Investigators reviewed five programs in all that gave out a combined $113 million in 2011 and found HUD officials didn't have a basic head count of participants. For the programs where participation numbers were known, HUD didn't track whether the money helped the people become self-sufficient and get off government assistance.
Sometimes HUD recorded an individual as successfully completing a program — without a record of that person ever enrolling.
For handing out taxpayer money with no oversight on whether it was actually helping people, the Department of Housing and Urban Development wins this week's Golden Hammer, a distinction given by The Washington Times to examples of federal fiscal mismanagement.
HUD officials say they are addressing the problems and have "taken concrete steps to mitigate them within the constraints of very limited staffing and information technology resources."
The housing welfare program is the latest in a long line of federal aid programs for the poor — including free cellphones and food stamps — that have ballooned in costs without concrete evidence that they are moving poor Americans toward self-sufficiency.
Investigators said HUD's record-keeping left much to be desired. For example, two programs recorded an enrollment of 14,690 families in 2006. By the end of the five-year programs in 2011, results data were missing for half of the families and 11 percent had conflicting information on whether they could support themselves now.
All told, the programs are estimated to have handed out $550 million since 2006, with the annual amount nearly doubling from $64 million in 2006 under President Bush to $113 million in 2011 under President Obama.
The five programs GAO investigated are a small part of HUD fiscal assistance. The agency handed out $33 billion for rental assistance in 2012 to an estimated 5.4 million households.
The grant programs are designed to pay for low-income families' housing while they work to support themselves. The requirement for participation in many public housing programs is set at working eight hours a month, the GAO reported, with increases in rent allowed as the individuals become more self-sufficient.
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