Oregon lawmakers urge HHS to fix costly glitch

LOFT youth homeless shelter lost grant funds

Bend teen shelter faces funding loss

WASHINGTON - Oregon Rep. Greg Walden and senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden sent a letter Monday to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius regarding an online submission tool glitch that cost the LOFT youth homeless shelter in Bend a key grant.

The shelter recently lost their primary federal grant funding because of a glitch in the website used to process the application.

The letter calls on Secretary Sebelius to ensure that their grant application process is improved so that a glitch such as this does not happen again, and asks how HHS plans to prevent similar situations during future grant solicitations.

Earlier this fall, the Cascade Youth & Family Center and its LOFT program said it received a federal Street Outreach grant of about $109,000.

But a Walden aide said that apparently is a different, one-time grant, not the 5-year grant they rely on for 70 percent of their funding

Here's the full text of the three lawmakers' letter:

Dear Secretary Sebelius:

We write regarding a grant application submitted to the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) by the Cascade Youth and Family Center in Bend, Oregon. The organization operates a youth homeless shelter called Living Options for Teens (LOFT), which since 2003 has served countless young men and women with a wide variety of programs and services.

The grant has been awarded in the past, but was not this time. According to information provided by the federal program, the grant application did not contain budget and budget justification documents. Those documents, of course, are vital to the award of any grant.

In its September 30, 2012 grant denial letter to the LOFT, ACF stated "the applicant failed to include a detailed line-item budget" within its grant request. However, according to the LOFT program, and as evidenced by the documents submitted to our offices, the LOFT program's request did in fact include a full budget and justification document. In fact, the LOFT's director was able to view its completed grant application, including all necessary documents, upon logging onto its profile.

The director of the LOFT program believes it was because of an error in the program that was used to upload the grant application. That error, according to the director, caused the grant application to be re-formatted and caused it to be longer than required by the rules for the grant.

According to the LOFT program director, an HHS official confirmed the software glitch was of no fault of the LOFT program, but stated that because the submission deadline had passed there was nothing that could be done.

Since, HHS has told congressional staff that the grant application was too long, and that the budget documents weren't considered for that reason. The LOFT program director is adamant that the application met the length requirements set by the grant application rules.

I'm sure you would agree that an answer of that nature is very frustrating, and unhelpful. While we certainly understand that software problems can occur, we do not believe that a glitch provides sufficient cause to deny an organization's grant request – particularly one that has done all in their power to fully comply with the government's requirements.

We understand that money for the grant has already been awarded, and that a re-evaluation of the grant proposals themselves is problematic. We strongly urge, however, that HHS take steps to make sure that its grant application works properly.

We also ask that HHS improve the grant application system to warn applicants if there is an error in the upload process, or if the applicants have made errors in their efforts to upload their documents. If the LOFT program had been aware that its budget documents had been cut off in the uploading process, it would have taken steps to make sure those documents had been included. Instead, the LOFT program had no opportunity to correct a situation that it believes was not of its making.

Please let us know how HHS plans to prevent similar situations during future grant solicitations.

The LOFT program provides an invaluable service to the residents of Bend and its surrounding areas, and we hope that this matter can be resolved quickly so that it may continue to serve its community. We look forward to your timely response to this important issue. 

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