Sunday, June 23, 2024

Audit finds Louisiana struggled with eligibility oversight for welfare programs

by BIZ Magazine

By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor

The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services has failed for more than a decade to ensure eligibility for cash assistance, one of seven findings highlighted in a recent audit.

Louisiana Legislative Auditor Mike Waguespack released an audit of DCFS on Monday that examined financial information and internal controls over reporting and compliance in fiscal year 2022. The report uncovered a total of seven findings, including two ongoing from previous years.

For the 11th consecutive year, DCFS failed to ensure that all work activity supporting documentation for cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program was accurate and maintained for hours worked.

“In a sample of 60 out of 12,851 work activity records in the job-tracking system for approximately 1,000 clients per month, 13 (22%) work-eligible participant’s hours either did not agree to supporting documentation or supporting documentation of work activities was not maintained, and one of the 13 was not engaged in work activities, as required by federal regulations,” auditors wrote.

“Noncompliance could result in penalties assessed on the state by the federal grantor.”

Other issues involved $16 million in TANF funds DCFS transferred to the Social Services Block Grant without a formal process to ensure the money was used for programs or services for children and their families with incomes less than 200% of the poverty level, as required. It was the second consecutive year auditors highlighted the issue.

“DCFS utilized $12 million of the $16 million TANF transfer funds on salaries to caseworkers through its Public Assistance Cost Allocation Plan, but the PACAP does not specify how income thresholds are met,” the report read. “In addition, DCFS uses monthly reports that show the percent of families it serves who are Medicaid eligible to support that a large portion of its expenditures meet the income threshold.”

A review of employee time and attendance records found DCFS failed to follow payroll policies and procedures, with two of 45 time sheets tested not certified by employees, and six of 45 not approved by supervisors.

In addition, auditors found one employee accessed their own records and inaccurately reported household members to receive $3,968 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits before they resigned in December 2022. Two other employees received wages from DCFS and another employer for the same hours worked, resulting in a combined loss of $16,465 impacting various federal programs.

One of those employees was terminated in July 2022, while the other resigned while DCFS was pursuing disciplinary action.

DCFS also failed to report subawards for foster care and TANF funds through a federal reporting system. The $8.8 million in foster care subawards went to eight different recipients, including four state entities, accounting for 18% of the programs’ fiscal year expenditures. The $76.6 million in TANF funds went to 41 different recipients, accounting for 48% of the programs’ expenditures.

Auditors found issues with reporting federal award expenditures through DCFS’ own financial management system, as well.

DCFS Secretary Terri Ricks responded to the audit report in a series of letters to Waguespack between October 2022 and April 2023 that concurred with the findings and explained how the department is rectifying the issues.

Much of the corrective action involves strengthening policies and procedures, and employee notifications, while DCFS’ Fraud and Recovery Unit works to recoup pay and SNAP benefits improperly paid to employees. As of April 11, DCFS recovered $78 of the SNAP funds, leaving a balance of $3,890 still outstanding in that case.

Regarding the double paid former employees, DCFS was fully reimbursed $11,349 from one and the department continues to pursue $5,116 from the other, Ricks wrote.

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