Battling, Bungling Bureaucrats

Miami says the feds are holding up a grant worth millions. The feds say Miami didn't ask for it just right. Miami says up yours. The feds say . . .

The planning department ceded control of the application to Cerdan as he tried several times to get it in order. Most recently, a HUD bureaucrat flew down to Miami to talk with him and other city workers. When the HUD official returned to Jacksonville in late July, the application still was not acceptable.

The bulk of the withheld grant money targeted for housing is not yet a problem because the processing of last year's requests hasn't been completed yet. Social services, however, are another story. All social-service money from last year has been used. The city advanced money to local agencies to cover their expenses for June and July, the first two months of the fiscal year. But because the city is so close to bankruptcy, it cannot afford to continue such advances. If the HUD money isn't made available immediately, the agencies may have to cut back services or even shut down.

"If all the city funding was halted? Oh my goodness!" exclaims Alice Abreu, director of the child-care division of Catholic Community Services, an agency that runs six day-care centers and serves 1500 children daily. "We would have to take drastic steps to see in what ways we could trim the budget and how many services we need to discontinue. Some of the children and families would be affected."

Some city officials worry that the problem is even more serious A that the grant money may be permanently lost. "I am aware of the delay [in the HUD grant] and I am concerned," says Commissioner Miller Dawkins. "Each day this situation is not addressed may eventually lead to denial and to longer delay." Indeed, because the grant application is still unacceptable, HUD can legally take the money targeted for Miami and distribute it among other cities, though Cerdan insists such action is extremely unlikely: "If they don't give us the money, it will be seen as a failure on their part. They are supposed to be our partner, not our bosses. It will look bad for them if they don't give us this money."

Jim Nichol, HUD's regional director in Jacksonville, does not believe his agency is responsible for the delay. "The city has to hustle, that's all," he says. On the other hand, he is not inclined to blame the city, either. The consolidated plan application is new to both Miami and to HUD, he notes. It's to be expected that some problems will crop up and some delays will occur. "It's not their fault," Nichol asserts, referring to the city. "It's not our fault. I don't think it's anybody's fault. It's just a transition year."

Nichol and Cerdan spoke several times last week as Cerdan polished another draft of the application, which was sent to Jacksonville Thursday night. But even if the latest draft is finally acceptable, as Nichol and Cerdan expect it to be, at least two more weeks will pass before the money is released. In addition, there is still a chance more problems will be discovered and the money will remain locked up.

All of which keeps Cerdan on edge: "If we don't get the money, we're going to have all the [social service] agencies call up HUD and ask, 'Why?' We're going to have them call up [HUD Secretary] Henry Cisneros and ask, 'Why?'

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