Superstorm Sandy Block Grants: Funds Benefited States' Reconstruction and Social Service Efforts, Though ACF's Guidance Could be Improved
WHY WE DID THIS STUDY
Five States received almost $475 million in Social Services Block Grant funding to help cover social service and reconstruction expenses resulting directly from Superstorm Sandy. When Congress made funds available to States to help pay for their Superstorm Sandy-related expenses, it noted that such funds were "susceptible to significant improper payments." Therefore, the Office of Management and Budget instructed Federal agencies to establish additional oversight of the funds. This evaluation examined States' experiences using Superstorm Sandy Social Service Block Grant (Sandy SSBG) funds and Administration for Children and Families (ACF) oversight of these funds.
HOW WE DID THIS STUDY
We conducted interviews with, and reviewed documentation from ACF, the five States affected by Superstorm Sandy, and selected organizations that received Superstorm Sandy SSBG funds (sub-recipients). Our review covers States' activities and ACF's oversight from July 1, 2013, when almost all Sandy SSBG funds were disbursed to States, through September 30, 2015.
WHAT WE FOUND
Sandy SSBG funds assisted States' recoveries by supporting reconstruction and social service activities. However, ACF's guidance limited the effectiveness of State planning and use of the funds and, therefore, could be improved for future disasters. As with past natural disasters, supplemental disaster funding was important in helping States meet both immediate and longer-term needs. The five SSBG-recipient States spent most of the funds on housing services and health services; the repair, renovation, and rebuilding of health facilities; and counseling services. Despite some delays, generally the funds were available to States when needed. Further, the grants' terms were flexible enough for States to use the funds for a variety of storm-related activities and to modify their plans as needed. However, the initial deadline that ACF established did not allow States the time they needed to use the Sandy SSBG funds for reconstruction and other longer-term needs. Also, States reported wanting more direction from ACF on allowable Sandy SSBG activities and more clarity about the type of documentation that ACF would expect during program integrity reviews. Nonetheless, States indicated that ACF worked closely with them as they planned and implemented their recovery activities. In addition, ACF implemented required reviews to account for Sandy SSBG funds and identify improper payments.
WHAT WE RECOMMEND
We recommend that ACF (1) take additional steps to ensure, within the scope of the legislation, that States are given an appropriate amount of time to expend any future supplemental SSBG awards (2) conduct a post-grant review to identify lessons learned and best practices and (3) prepare guidance about supplemental SSBG documentation requirements. ACF concurred with all of our recommendations.