The New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration so far has set aside more money for marketing an emergency rental assistance program than it has doled out in funds to people in need, according to a report presented Friday to the Legislative Finance Committee.
“The rental assistance funding has just been pretty slow to roll out,” Micaela Fischer, program evaluation manager for the committee, told the bipartisan group of lawmakers.
“DFA told us that they’re just starting to distribute their $284 million of funding this month,” she said. “They’ve awarded just shy of $400,000 — one-tenth of 1 percent. It’s not much.”
Fischer also told lawmakers the department had set up a pair of “really large no-bid procurements” totaling about $5.4 million with Real Time Solutions to conduct a marketing and outreach campaign, a move she said “makes our eyebrows raise.”
“Just to contrast, we’ve heard from Doña Ana County in the last couple of days that they’ve distributed about $1.1 million of their $16.5 million in rental assistance, and they only spent $147,000 on media, so they’ve proportionally divvied out more assistance [and] spent less on marketing,” she said.
Henry Valdez, a department spokesman, acknowledged the program got off to a slow start.
“As we opened up the gates, we had a lot of applicants, and we had a lot of people that had incomplete applications,” he said, adding the agency is trying to pay landlords directly in compliance with federal guidelines.
“Once we were able to reach out to those people and get the right documentation and get the W-9 from the landlord, we were able to start getting money out the door,” he said.
As of Friday afternoon, the state, which partnered up with the city of Albuquerque, had issued about $1.3 million in emergency rental assistance to 489 households across New Mexico, including nearly $110,000 in Santa Fe, Valdez said. The state expects to provide an additional $1.6 million to $1.8 million by the end of next week, he added.
Valdez also defended the no-bid contracts with Real Time Solutions. The company, which has offices in Albuquerque, handled the state’s vaccine registration application, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said helped New Mexico lead the nation in vaccination rates. It was also involved in marketing the state’s 2020 census outreach campaign.
“These agreements reflect the timeframe we have to push aid out the door and help New Mexicans experiencing financial housing hardship due to COVID-19,” Valdez wrote in an email.
“DFA is handling the processing and ensuring the federal compliance aspect of the program,” he wrote. “At the same time, the Department of Tourism and their trusted vendors run [the program’s] marketing as they have had great success with the vaccine rollout and could take on a program of this size on an emergency timeframe.”
According to a report to the Legislative Finance Committee, the department determined the contracts didn’t need to be put out for bid because the procurement code doesn’t apply to “purchases of advertising in all media, including radio, television, print and electronic.”
The first contract is for up to $1.77 million. It calls for the company to design and produce creative materials and develop an advertising plan to reach as many people needing rental assistance as possible, among other tasks.
The other contract is for up to $3.61 million.
It calls for the company to lead a statewide marketing and outreach campaign with a team of subject matter experts in marketing, communication, outreach and media.
In an interview, Valdez said the smaller contract is essentially for design and content creation, and the larger contract is to pay for the advertising itself.
Valdez said the state didn’t write the company a check for the total of the two contracts.
“It’s a work-against number, so as they are doing the marketing, they are billing us and we are deducting from that,” he said. “That’s the pool [of money] that’s available.”
Valdez also said the early investment in a marketing and outreach campaign will pay off in the long run.
“Whether it’s rental assistance or you’re selling T-shirts, you make that big launch [and] you spend a lot of money on marketing and then from there, you can dial it back because you don’t need as much,” he said.
According to its website, Real Time Solutions “is a leading web software company.”
CEO Steve Schroeder said the company is on the state General Services Department’s statewide price agreement and the so-called GSA schedule, both procurement vehicles that make it easier for government to purchase products and services from commercial firms.
Schroeder said he couldn’t do anything about eyebrows being raised over his company receiving two no-bid contracts from the state.
“But when you say ‘no-bid contract,’ that has implications that it didn’t follow the procurement procedure; that’s erroneous,” he said. “Every four years, we respond to an incredibly difficult and time-consuming [request for proposals], and we’re very fortunate to be awarded a statewide price agreement.”