A multi-billion-dollar government program launched by Obama to help families hit by the housing crisis squandered millions on parties, employee bonuses, cars, and superfluous data storage. The program is known as Hardest Hit Fund and operates under the Treasury Department, which does little to oversee it and sits by as federal audits expose pervasive fraud and waste. The findings of the latest probe were released this month by the inspector general of another reckless Treasury gem, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), Obama’s disastrous initiative to rescue the nation’s ailing financial institutions.
The findings are documented in an exhaustive 93-page report that should enrage every American taxpayer. For those who don’t have the stamina to get through the entire document, here are some highlights; $3 million in expenses, deemed “unnecessary” by the watchdog, were spent on picnics, barbecues, gift cards, a new customer center, employee bonuses, cars, and more. Here’s a breakdown straight out of the federal audit; $598,374 went to car allowances, free parking, and other transportation perks; $342,728 was spent on settlements, severance, and other employee legal expenses; $342,407 went to employee bonuses, cash debit cards, gifts, and other perks; $258,333 was spent on “avoidable” data storage expenses; $150,618 on barbecues, parties, picnics, steak and seafood dinners, and other food and beverages. The rest was spent on unemployment payments to former employees and a customer center in Rhode Island that had already received federal money years earlier for a new office.
“Taxpayers are paying more for this program than is necessary, and losing Federal dollars to waste, because Treasury is not following its own contract to limit TARP spending to only expenses necessary to modify loans or demolish blighted houses,” the inspector general writes in the report. “Treasury has also allowed state agencies to charge TARP for expenses not included in the Permitted Expenses, such as food and beverages, which are not necessary to modify loans or demolish blighted houses.” The probe was requested by a U.S. senator in the aftermath of a 2016 audit exposing $8.1 million in waste in Nevada’s Hardest Hit Fund. In that case the money was blown on outrageous things like employee outings, staff lunches and gifts, parties, a fancy car for a supervisor, and severance pay for a top official. The Treasury Department never bothered trying to recover the money, according to the audit, and the fraud continues to grow.
The Hardest Hit Fund was created by Obama in 2010 to help struggling families negatively impacted by the housing crisis that began in 2007. 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 more than $9 billion dollars to the cause and the money will be available until the end of 2020. 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 eight years, 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 18 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 ($2,358,593,320) followed by Florida ($1,135,735,674), Ohio ($762,302,067), Michigan ($761,204,045), and North Carolina ($706,507,564). Nevada got a total of $202,911,881, nearly $9 million of it just months before the publication of that scathing inspector general report documenting $8.1 million in fraud.
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