West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), a non-profit organization often activated for flood relief in the state, came under scrutiny for possible misuse of funds during Sunday afternoon’s meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding.
Senate Finance Committee chairman Eric Tarr (R-Putnam, 04) called for the Legislature’s Commission on Special Investigations, the criminal investigation arm of the Legislature, as well as the Legislative Auditor and State Auditor’s office to look into several allegations raised against the organization regarding possible financial irregularities.
“I’m not convinced that the funds that went through VOAD, and I’m not sure how much of that would have been state dollars with just the recent appropriations, let alone what’s happened since 2016, were used appropriately,” Tarr said.
Tarr asked VOAD Executive Director Jenny Gannaway several questions under oath regarding actions taken by her and VOAD staff. These actions include the hiring of family members for VOAD by Gannaway and others. Gannaway admitted to hiring her brother, her great niece and great nephew-in-law. Gannaway said the hires did not require approval of VOAD’s board, and that Gannaway and other employees did not directly supervise employed family members.
Gannaway explained that the hires were made during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic when it was hard to find employees willing to work. She noted that she would never make similar hires again but at the time, with so much to do, and being short staffed, she felt that was her only option to get the job done.
Tarr also asked about whether Gannaway took as her own some items that had been donated to VOAD to help with relief efforts.
Gannaway said she made donations in exchange for the materials.
“We had permission to take donations for items we could not give out to flood survivors,” Gannaway said. “I gave large donations for any items I took that I may have given to someone.”
According to Tarr, VOAD received approximately $896,000 through the state Department of Commerce from West Virginia’s nearly $149 million in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery dollars stemming from the 2016 flooding in southern and central West Virginia.
Tarr also asked about the use of federal Paycheck Protection Program loans for bonuses for Gannaway and others. According to Tarr, VOAD received approximately $400,000 in PPP loans, meant to help retain and pay workers during COVID-19 shutdowns in the spring of 2020.
Gannaway informed the committee that much of the PPP funding was returned to the federal government, but confirmed that PPP helped provide bonuses, including for herself. It is unclear how much was paid out in these bonuses, but according to a letter read by Tarr from Gannaway to a VOAD employee, that staff member received more than $7,000. Gannaway said these bonuses were cleared by VOAD’s CEO and auditor.