By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor
The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services failed to ensure compliance with work verification requirements for federal cash assistance for the tenth consecutive year, according to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.
Louisiana Legislative Auditor Mike Waguespack issued an audit report for the Department of Children and Family Services on Wednesday that found the agency did not provide case management services to cash assistance recipients of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program between July 2020 and April 2021.
The finding marked the tenth consecutive year state auditors reported exceptions with internal controls and compliance with the requirement, which includes determining when a TANF recipient is ready for work.
“Federal regulations require that a parent or caretaker receiving assistance must engage in work activities when the state has determined that the individual is ready to engage in work,” auditors wrote.
DCFS became responsible for providing TANF case management on July 1, 2020, after taking over from the Louisiana Workforce Commission. DCFS created a new Workforce Development Section to manage and conduct those services, but did not start until May 2021, according to the report.
“Also, DCFS contracted with Mathematica, a national consulting firm, to develop case management and train case management coaches to work with participants, which took additional time,” the report reads. “Additional delays occurred due to DCFS employees being pulled away from their regular duties to assist in emergency responses.”
Auditors noted that “noncompliance could result in penalties assessed on the state by the federal grantor.”
Auditors further found DCFS did not have a process to ensure $16 million of TANF grant funds transferred to the Social Services Block Grant were used solely for programs or services for low-income children or their families, as required by law.
“In addition, the SSBG Post Expenditure Report included all individuals who received services through other federal programs which can be supported with SSBG funds rather than only those individuals who actually received services paid for in whole or in part with SSBG funds, as required,” auditors wrote.
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor recommended DCFS ensure case management services are provided to all TANF recipients, and to “maintain controls to ensure expenditures related to TANF funds transferred to SSBG are used for services related to children and families that meet the income requirements and establish procedures to properly prepare the SSBG Post Expenditure Report.”
DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner Walters responded to the findings through letters to Waguespack on Dec. 13, 2021 and June 10, 2022 that acknowledged the issues and laid out how the agency plans to address them.
Walters wrote that “it took time to restructure the division, hire staff, train, develop, and implement contracts” when DCFS took over case management for work-eligible cash assistance recipients in July 2020.
“Technological systems improvements were necessary to document the TANF/STEP program and provide reports for data analysis. DCFS worked with vendors to align the Louisiana Integrated Technology for Eligibility system with the Goal4It! Model used to coach STEP participants. DCFS collaborated with the Office of Technological Services to seek approval to use the Tuapath system, which allows participants to report work activities and to communicate in real time with staff,” Walters wrote in December. “The enhancement of the LITE system and the implementation of Tuapath will assist DCFS in reporting work activities and monitoring the actions for improvement.”
In June she wrote that “the Child Welfare Program is working with Fiscal Services, Budget and Cost Allocation to create written procedures that document the department’s process for ensuring expenditures related to TANF funds transferred to SSBG are used for services related to children and families who meet the income requirements and ensure the SSBG Post Expenditure Report is properly prepared.”