Dallas Agency Brings Coding In-House to Target Covid-19 Aid

The Dallas Housing Authority’s efforts to distribute Covid-19 housing assistance to the city’s renters were bolstered by a sales software system reconfigured with features that enabled officials to grant aid more quickly and equitably.

The governmental agency, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in August was tasked with distributing $4 million to income-eligible renters before Dec. 31 as part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

To meet the deadline and ensure the funds would reach the neediest families, DHA staffers customized an existing software program from Zoho Corp. to automate tasks and map the most economically vulnerable neighborhoods in the city. Zoho’s customer relationship-management software is primarily intended for sales teams.

“If we can leverage technology to move faster but also move with intention, that was really the spirit of what I tried to accomplish here,” said Dr. Myriam Igoufe, vice president of policy development and research at DHA.

The Dallas Housing Authority’s system for managing Cares Act funds is based on customer-relationship management software from Zoho Corp.



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Dallas Housing Authority

The automated system her team built went live in late August and started approving checks to landlords last week.

Early results are encouraging, she said. Staff now have a better understanding of who is applying and from what sections of the city, an important distinction that enables officials to better sense whether the money allocated to one district may run out and adjust plans if needed.

Approximately 1,525 people applied for rent relief funds through DHA, with 388 approved to have checks sent to their landlords in the coming weeks. Sixty-three percent of those accepted applicants came from neighborhoods above the 80th percentile in terms of being the most vulnerable. Without the system they have created, Dr. Igoufe said, distribution wouldn’t have been as targeted.

“This to me means that we are providing much-needed relief to the most vulnerable people in our city,” she said. “A lot of people are months and months behind on their rent, and it’s not a character flaw. It’s Covid.”

Dallas resident Keia Johnson, 27, is on track to have her $1,065 rent covered for two months through the program. Ms. Johnson said she has been unemployed since March—after losing jobs as a dental coordinator and a beauty salon receptionist—and has been cutting costs and borrowing money just to keep up with her rent.

“Unemployment benefits can only do so much. It’s just been a strain. And then, filling out that [DHA] application and seeing them say ‘Congratulations, we’re paying for it,’ has been a relief off my back,” Ms. Johnson said.

DHA started using Zoho about two years ago to better keep track of families applying for federal housing vouchers. Although Zoho allows for some customization, Dr. Igoufe said her team took things a step further, including writing new code, to make it useful for managing rental assistance.

First, they had to figure out which neighborhoods were likely to be the most vulnerable,

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Trump Media Agency Boss Explains Non-Appearance to House Panel

(Bloomberg) — The chief of the agency that oversees the Voice of America and other media organizations told the chairman of a congressional committee that subpoenaed him that he couldn’t appear because of a scheduling conflict.



a large stone building with United States Capitol in the background: The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020.


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The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020.

Michael Pack, who earlier this year took charge of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, had angered both Democrats and Republicans on the Foreign Affairs Committee when he defied the subpoena to testify about changes at the agency.

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In a letter to the panel’s chairman, Eliot Engel, on Wednesday, Pack said he was “disappointed to receive your subpoena” and “eager to testify.” He complained in the letter that the panel’s staff had refused to accept other dates.

“As we have repeatedly explained to the committee, USAGM has become preoccupied with a series of pressing and complex matters necessary to correct over a decade of systemic security failures. In view of these genuine and urgent conflicts, we requested a brief adjournment so that I may appear a few weeks later.”

Earlier: Trump Media Agency Chief to Defy Subpoena, Angering Republicans

He added that he “could not provide complete information concerning the pressing internal matters.”

He was originally scheduled to appear voluntarily on Thursday, and the committee issued the subpoena last week after he withdrew.

Engel, a New York Democrat, said Tuesday that it was Pack who had failed to provide alternative dates or offer an acceptable excuse.

Pack’s withdrawal also drew a strong statement from the committee’s ranking Republican, Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, who called for Pack to testify. In a sharply divided Congress, the bipartisan response was unusual, particularly with regard to pressing a Trump nominee to appear before a committee controlled by Democrats.

McCaul said that since being confirmed by the Senate in June, Pack had placed critical national security programs “in jeopardy” and that he “needs to come before this committee and explain those actions.”

In June, Pack dismissed the heads of four news organizations, including Radio Free Europe, as well as staff and governing board members at the Open Technology Fund, or OTF, an organization that promotes internet freedom abroad and receives grant money from the Agency for Global Media. McCaul was one of the lead authors of a measure that would establish the OTF as an independent grantee of the agency.

Earlier: Trump Nominee to Lead U.S. Media Agency Gets Committee Approval

Pack’s nomination by President Donald Trump drew heated opposition from Senate Democrats, both for his association with former Trump campaign and White House adviser Steve Bannon, but also over unresolved questions about his business dealings while running an nonprofit media organization called the Public Media Lab. The attorney general of the District of Columbia is investigating the organization for unlawful use of funds.

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Senate Democrats demand White House fire controversial head of public lands agency

Senate Democrats continued their pressure campaign on the White House on Tuesday, taking to the floor to ask President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats, advocates seethe over Florida voting rights ruling Russian jets identified in Trump campaign ad calling for support for the troops Democratic Senate candidate ‘hesitant’ to get COVID-19 vaccine if approved this year MORE to immediately remove the controversial acting head of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from his post.

The speeches were focused on William Perry Pendley, the de facto head of the public lands agency who has long opposed federal ownership of them.

Though his nomination was withdrawn earlier this month after a letter of opposition from the entire Democratic caucus showed Republicans they had little wiggle room for a vote, Pendley remains in office through a series of orders being challenged in two different lawsuits.

“Let’s get one thing straight. This title has no basis in law. He’s serving as acting BLM director under temporary appointments that the Secretary [of Interior] keeps renewing in a cynical ploy to evade the Constitution, the Federal Vacancies Reform Act and the judgment of the Senate,” said Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump extends Florida offshore drilling pause, expands it to Georgia, South Carolina | Democrats probe Park Service involvement in GOP convention | Sanders attacks ‘corporate welfare’ to coal industry included in relief package Democrats probe Park Service involvement in GOP convention Overnight Energy: EPA chief outlines vision for agency under ‘Trump’s second term’ | Agency sued over decision not to regulate chemical linked to fetal brain damage MORE (D-N.M.), a vocal critic of Pendley’s.

“Mr. Pendley’s record on conservation is so bad, so antithetical to the agency he oversees the Trump administration knew he wouldn’t survive a Senate confirmation. So instead, they’ve concocted this shell game,” Udall continued.

Pendley has come under fire for a number of comments and articles. He’s compared climate change to unicorns to highlight that he doesn’t believe it exists. He’s criticized the Black Lives Matter movement. He has a long history fighting federal government oversight of public lands, penning books with the titles “War on the West: Government Tyranny on America’s Frontier” and “Warriors for the West: Fighting Bureaucrats, Radical Groups, and Liberal Judges on America’s Frontier.” 

Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetNext crisis, keep people working and give them raises Democrats tear into Trump’s ‘deep state’ tweet: His ‘lies and recklessness’ have ‘killed people’ Trump rails against the FDA over vaccine testing MORE (D-Colo.) said “asking someone like that to manage our public lands … is like asking somebody be Secretary of Education who doesn’t believe in public education,” taking a jab at Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosDeVos drops controversial rule on coronavirus aid Education secretary should be on the side of students Conservatives press for concessions in GOP coronavirus relief bill MORE.

Efforts by Democrats to get the White House to withdraw Pendley’s nomination came as environmental groups ran ads questioning the

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