$11 million: that's the money the Sioux Falls Housing & Redevelopment Commission receives every year to help nearly 1,800 families pay for rent.
The money is divvied out based on income and how many people live in each apartment. But in an investigation, KELOLAND News found people with high-incomes remaining on the program.
Rental assistance programs are funded by taxpayer money and South Dakota's congressional delegation reacts to the results of the investigation.
Sioux Falls' Housing and Redevelopment Commission helps keep a roof over the heads of low-income families, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Demand for the rental assistance is high. Leslie Williams and her three boys are on the waiting list that spans up to five years.
"I just really do the best that I can," Williams said.
The guidelines to get into the program are strict, yet some people making above the income limit are still enrolled in the program.
As we showed you last night, after a request of public records, KELOLAND News found 509 households above federal poverty guidelines. Three families make more than $50,000 a year. One family of three brings in $61,382.
"It hurts but in the other sense, that is just the reality. It's not here, it's everywhere." Williams said.
Executive Director Shireen Ranschau says families who reach a higher income, remain on the program without assistance, for six months as a safety net. Incomes are verified each year to prevent fraud.
"To be honest, you'll have a few who just try to work the system and not work," Ranschau said.
Yet, with an $11 million annual budget paid by taxpayer dollars, we took the results of our investigation to South Dakota's congressional delegation.
Rep. Kristi Noem (R) South Dakota says: It’s absolutely heartbreaking to learn that families who are truly struggling in Sioux Falls aren’t able to get the help they need because others are taking advantage of these taxpayer-funded resources. We must make sure every taxpayer dollar is being used appropriately and that the outcomes of this program are aligning with its objectives.
Senator John Thune (R) South Dakota says: I understand how important access to affordable housing assistance is to families and communities. We have a responsibility to ensure that federal resources aimed at assisting low-income families and administered at the local level are getting to those in greatest need, when they need it. At a time when all programs and budgets are under higher levels of scrutiny, both Congress and taxpayers demand transparency and oversight to ensure federal dollars are spent wisely and administered appropriately.
Senator Tim Johnson (D) South Dakota adds: Housing programs in Sioux Falls and in other communities across the state help provide struggling families, seniors, and children with a roof over their heads. That is why it is critically important that all federal resources are used effectively and that anyone found to be defrauding or abusing any federal program is held accountable.
The US Office of Inspector General says anyone found committing fraud while receiving federally-assisted housing is subject to a $10,000 fine and five years in prison.