The U.S. Treasury Department will investigate Florida's $1 billion Hardest Hit mortgage assistance program as the result of problems uncovered by the Tampa Bay Times.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson requested the inquiry after the Times reported the program had denied aide to thousands of desperate homeowners while helping felons, tax scofflaws and people chronically in debt.
"We share in your desire to bring more transparency to (the program) and note the importance of your concerns,'' Special Inspector General Christy Romero wrote to Nelson in a letter he received Thursday.
Romero's office already was auditing the national Hardest Hit Fund, Treasury's $7.6 billion effort to stabilize the housing market in Florida and 17 other states hard hit by foreclosures.
Nelson said "a big problem'' was that Florida had distributed less than 16 percent of its Hardest Hit funds in the nearly three years since the program began. As of Dec. 31, only 7,314 Florida homeowners had received aide — fewer than in Michigan, Ohio and North Carolina, states with much smaller populations.
Among those who have gotten help are people with felony records and large IRS tax liens, the Times reported. The head of Florida Housing Finance Corp., the public agency that runs the state's Hardest Hit program, has said state and federal audits have not found aid going to ineligible applicants.
Susan Taylor Martin can be reached at email@example.com.