On Your Side: Federal grant money still tied up

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Updated: 7/29 6:55 pm
RENO, Nev. (MyNews4.com & KRNV) -- A state lawmaker is taking up the fight for dozens of local contractors who are still waiting to be paid for work they did years ago.

News 4's On Your Side team started investigating the story back in May. The Nevada Fire Safe Council mismanaged funds nearly three years ago, leading to a long list of people waiting to be paid, including contractors, homeowners, and even local fire agencies.

Nearly three years ago, $2.5 million in federal grant money was frozen because of accounting errors at the now-defunct Nevada Fire Safe Council. The money is still locked up, in a federal bankrupcty court.

It is still there because there are questions about how the grants were processed. The Department of Justice reportedly wants the money back, rather than pay it out to those who did the work.

"The Department of Justice at the federal level is really the ones who hold the cards in this," said Nevada Assemblyman Mike Sprinkle.

Sprinkle said he is working to keep the pressure on the federal government to resolve this issue. Sprinkle recently sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, urging him to take whatever action is necessary to free up the money and pay the folks who did the work of clearing brush and trees, and reducing the threat of fires in the Tahoe Basin.

"What we can do and what we did do is send off a rather strongly-worded letter to the DOJ asking them to expedite this process," said Sprinkle.

Sprinkle said this is basically a federal issue at this point. He said there is nothing official that the state legislature can say or do to force the agencies involved to release the funds. But the more public pressure, the better.

"As long as myself, even you, can continue to get this story out there, people are going to feel we are working for them which is important because we are."

Even though it is a federal issue, Nevada Senator Harry Reid had few answers in April. "I'm not going to say we're going to get it done, I just don't know."

So with no timetable set to get things resolved, what some view as bureacratic red tape, is holding up millions of dollars in hard-earned money. Those who did earn it, can only sit and wait, and that is what has Sprinkle worried.

"This truly is kind of a teetering point. If they don't get this money, and soon, they easily could go out of business."

Sprinkle said he still has not received a response to his letter. News 4 contacted the Department of Justice in Washington and they said they will be responding to his letter, but could not say when.
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