/DHS, in midst of leadership transition, failing to monitor spending of public dollars, child care center safety standards

DHS, in midst of leadership transition, failing to monitor spending of public dollars, child care center safety standards

According to a release from the office, the department does not “compile basic, necessary documents, such as a comprehensive list or grant recipients.” From the $1 billion in federal funds it receives, approximately $150 million is passed to these private non-profits and organizations. Stephanie Palmertree is the financial and compliance auditor director at the state auditor’s department. “In that situation, you don’t know if they’re using the program funds properly, if there might be fraud in their system,… you don’t even know if those costs were allowable,” she said. The audit found that Mississippi’s primary safety net program, Human Services, was responsible for 10 out of the total 63 findings across all state agencies. The auditor’s office discovered management problems associated with $30M in human services spending. This included everything from minor reporting errors to serious monitoring mistakes. Auditors also found that the agency made improper payments to welfare recipients and child care centers, failed to properly monitor child care centers for safety and health standards, and did not submit timely financial reports to federal government. These violations are repeated from previous audits. Palmertree explained that the more the department of social services violates federal spending regulations, the more scrutiny it will face from the federal government. This can have an impact on the amount of money it gets in the future. This audit is coming at a transitional time for the agency and the $62.8million Child Care Development Fund program. The program provides vouchers for child care to low-income families in order to allow parents to go to work. The state is setting new standards for child-care centers. This includes sending coaches from local community colleges to teach early childhood education. John Davis, the executive director, was appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant was appointed as the agency’s executive director in 2016. He announced that he will be retiring from his position July 31. Shad White, the State Auditor, said that he hopes that the audit will attract the attention of state and agency officials and serve as a roadmap for Davis’ successor. White stated that while he doesn’t know how much political strife the audit will cause, he can tell you that there has been some awakening of people as a result of their jobs in this office. Carol Burnett, director for the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative said that DHS has frequently employed government workers to manage programs they don’t know much about. However, she also praised DHS’s recent approach in child care delivery. Burnett stated that DHS has been responsive to the families’ needs for child care under John Davis’ leadership. The state has broad discretion over how it spends federal anti-poverty funds, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. This program, which provides $114.2 million to the state, allows states wide latitude. Only $7.8 million goes to Mississippi’s poor families. This was formerly known as the welfare check. The remainder is either transferred to other programs like child care or given to organizations such as Mississippi Community Education Center or Family Resource Center of Northeast Mississippi to provide support services and workforce training. The TANF program serves fewer than 4500 families and less than 4 percent children in poverty in Mississippi. This is despite Palmertree’s description of Mississippi’s “generous eligibility requirements for the program. “Very few people get this and so there’s this bigger question about where these funds go and how they are being used that this audit report really doesn’t address,” LaDonna Pavetti, Vice President for Family Income Support Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said. Burnett, who was the administrator of the Child Care Development Fund for child services, stated that the November governor’s race will determine the next chapter of department human services and child services. The new governor will set the tone for this program. It will do well if they like it. If not, it won’t. Burnett stated that if people don’t care and it’s not on their radar screen, it will be marginalized and kicked out of the country. The democratic candidate for governor, Attorney General Jim Hood, said that the lack of affordable child-care was a barrier to working for low-income families and the reason for the low state’s workforce participation rate. Hood stated that he supports transferring the maximum amount TANF dollars (30%) to the child-care fund, creating a task force to identify all child-care funding, and advocating for more federal and state child care dollars. Hood stated that he would work to connect child care programs with living wage career pathways for parents and families who they serve. Republican candidate Bill Waller Jr. stated that he would conduct a thorough review on the program and agency and seek out agency leaders who “mirror his style of bringing people to implement the most efficient policies and services.” Democratic candidate Velesha Williams said she was against the state’s public aid eligibility process which she believes restricts services for low-income Mississippians. Williams stated that she would seek out an agency leader who has experience serving families with love and compassion. “The people making policies are not in touch with the realities of everyday Mississippians,” Robert Shuler Smith, Democratic candidate for Hinds County District Attorney, said. He cited the $10.6million grant Mississippi received to support early childhood development. This grants helps improve the quality of child care centers. Smith stated that his grandfather was one the first Head Start founders in Mississippi, and “therefore,” he is passionate about implementing his vision for Mississippi’s children. Lt. Governor Republican. Mississippi Today reached out to Tate Reeves, and Rep. Robert Foster (R-Hernando) for comment about the state’s child support program. Burnett stated that while state leaders tried to make it appear that the department for human services was independent of the governor’s, “that is not true.” “(The Department of Human Services) works as an arms of the governor’s office,” Burnett explained. “That’s part the political context that makes governor’s opinion (on the program) so crucial.”