Years after a scathing federal audit exposed rampant waste in a multi-billion-dollar government program to help the “unemployed or underemployed” pay their mortgage, the gouging continues full throttle. Public officials who operate the disastrous project, known as Hardest Hit Fund (HHF), have wasted millions of dollars on parties, fancy cars, gifts, extravagant dinners and receptions, gym memberships and luxury travel.
Previous investigations have uncovered more than $11 million in wasteful spending at HHF for illegal things such as employee bonuses, lavish shindigs, expensive vehicles and superfluous data storage. The latest enraging figures are documented in a lengthy report to Congress that outlines how HHF continues fleecing American taxpayers.
Obama launched the scandal-plagued program in 2010 to help struggling families negatively impacted by the housing crisis and it operates under the Treasury Department, which does little to oversee it and sits by as federal probes unmask pervasive fraud and corruption. The former commander-in-chief asserted that homeowners in regions with high unemployment needed the government’s help to make their mortgage payment and prevent foreclosure.
The government has contributed an astounding $9.6 billion to the cause and the money will be available until the end of 2021. In the Obama administration’s last year, the fund got an additional $2 billion to assist struggling homeowners and communities. “While the housing market has strengthened in recent years, there are still many homeowners and neighborhoods experiencing the negative effects of the financial crisis,” said the Treasury’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Financial Stability when the money was doled out, assuring that the funds would help stabilize local communities and help struggling families avoid foreclosure.
Like a lot of government programs during Obama’s tenure, this one ballooned and kept receiving boatloads of cash with virtually no oversight. It started off as a $1.5 billion initiative focused on the five states with the steepest declines in home prices and grew to a $9.6 billion boondoggle encompassing 19 states and the District of Columbia.
The money goes to mortgage payment assistance for unemployed or underemployed homeowners, principal reduction to help homeowners get into more affordable mortgages, and blight elimination and down payment assistance efforts. California has received the biggest chunk of money ($2.3 billion) followed by Florida ($1.1 billion) Ohio ($762 million), Michigan ($761 million) and North Carolina ($707 million). Nevada, which is notorious for mismanaging HHF funds, has received north of $202 million.
The Silver State is prominently featured in the last two corruption probes, including the most recent one conducted by the inspector general of another reckless Treasury gem, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), Obama’s catastrophic initiative to rescue the nation’s ailing financial institutions. In its quarterly report to Congress, the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) reveals that Nevada’s HHF “wasted $8.2 million on parties, a Mercedes Benz and more.”
The state also blew HHF funds on gift cards for employees, bar tabs, flowers, cash bonuses and employee picnics. Georgia mismanaged $18.6 million in HHF funds on similar things, the watchdog found, and other states did the same. This includes prohibited travel, luxury hotels, extravagant dinners and receptions as well as networking events with gifts, a carving station with a uniformed chef and a desert station of cake bites and strawberry shortcake martinis. “Wasted dollars harm taxpayers who fund TARP and consumers intended to receive these dollars,” the watchdog writes.
On a positive note criminal bribery charges were filed against multiple public officials handling HHF money, according to the Treasury watchdog, though it won’t stop the cash from flowing into the famously crooked program’s bloated coffers. Among them are an unnamed city official, land bank official and a contractor in Michigan and Ohio. “This is SIGTARP’s third audit finding waste and unnecessary charges in the HHF,” the latest report states. “Previous SIGTARP audits uncovered more than $11 million in waste and other unnecessary expenses.” When will the madness stop?