The federal government wants Hawaii to give back more than $500,000 in stimulus funds after state officials let a nonprofit spend it on computers and multimedia equipment for at-risk youth.

But much of the equipment is still boxed up, sitting in storage nearly three years after the money was doled out, something federal officials say was “not a prudent or reasonable” use of their money.

The equipment was purchased using the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money given to the state, and was supposed to go to an after-school program to teach at-risk youth about science, technology, engineering and math.

But the STEM initiative has gotten off to a slow start. Many of the computers remain unplugged and much of the multimedia equipment has languished.

In 2010, the state awarded the nonprofit Honolulu Community Action Program, Inc. more than $3 million in stimulus funds, $513,649 of which went to buying computers, multimedia equipment and furniture for five afterschool programs targeting at-risk elementary and middle school students.

Those purchases were irresponsible, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In a February report from the Office of the Inspector General, the agency found that the money was spent before the program had even gotten off the ground.

Ten months after the computers were purchased, the agency found that almost all of the computer equipment remained unused and in boxes in a storage unit or at the Honolulu Community Action Program’s offices.

Even today only two of the five after-school programs are up and running, nearly three years after the purchases were made.

Health and Human Services wants Hawaii to pay back the $513,649, despite protests from the nonprofit and the state for more time to get the programs started.

“We maintain that HCAP’s purchase of the items for the STEM programs was not prudent or reasonable given the circumstances prevailing at the time the decision was made to incur the costs,” the federal report states.

“Although the items purchased may one day be used to address the needs of youth in low-income communities through youth development programs, the items were not needed at the time of the purchases and did not provide a benefit under the Recovery Act award.”

The federal agency also said the state Office of Community Services did not provide adequate oversight when approving Honolulu Community Action Program’s purchases. The Office of Community Services is the state agency that gave the federal stimulus money to the nonprofit, and was in charge of making sure it was spent properly.

An official with the state said the Office of Community Services is appealing the federal request to refund the money. The nonprofit is also hoping that it is allowed to finish building its STEM program.

“We’re just continuing to move forward to continue to try to implement the program as quickly as possible,” said Mike Hine, finance director for Honolulu Community Actions Program. “There may have been questions about the timing, but this is being rolled out. It’s a good program and people are getting their money’s worth.”

The nonprofit has already set up two of the five afterschool programs it originally planned for. Logistical delays have kept the other three from opening, although Hine said he expects two more to start up by the end of summer. The fifth doesn’t have a scheduled opening date.

Hine said the two operational afterschool programs — one in Kalihi the other in Waianae — have a total of about 200 registered participants.

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