/Southern Miss knew Human Services funds paid for volleyball center construction, auditor found

Southern Miss knew Human Services funds paid for volleyball center construction, auditor found

According to minutes of board meetings, officials representing the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation, which is one of the largest welfare beneficiaries, were aware that funds for the construction of a new volleyball arena on campus were funded from a block grant from the Mississippi Department of Human Services. The State Auditor Shad white wrote a 104-page report detailing massive misspend at Human Services. He also questioned welfare purchases at several schools. Mississippi Community Education Center (MCEC) was the nonprofit that paid $5 million to build the volleyball facility. Mississippi Today first reported this. The Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees approved the University of Southern Mississippi’s lease to the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation. It stated that the nonprofit would sublease athletic facilities at the university to it, and would pay rent to the foundation for modifications to the Wellness Center. The lease was signed by the university in November 2017, nine months before the construction began. IHL cannot deny this fact. After the auditor challenged White’s description of the deal, White wrote a letter to Alfred Rankins, Commissioner of Higher Education. “If IHL objects to the arrangement with MCEC then the time to voice your objection was when it came up for a vote and not after the State Auditor pointed out it.” According to a Mississippi Today open records request, the sublease attached to the lease showed Mississippi Community Education Center had agreed to pay $5million dollars. This was used to fund most of the $7million construction. In October of 2017, the IHL board approved the university-foundation lease, meeting minutes reveal, with the understanding that the foundation would sublease the property to Mississippi Community Education Center for $5 million and construct the new volleyball stadium called the Wellness Center. According to the minutes, “MCEC received funding for this project via a Block Grant from Mississippi Department of Human Services.” “The funding from MCEC shall consist of prepaid rent to Foundation in the amount $5,000,000 for the leasing and operation of certain USM athletic facilities, including the to-be constructed Wellness Center, Reed Green Coliseum, and additional athletic space, as agreed upon between USM and Foundation.” Human Services is best known for administering federal grants such as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Community Services Block Grant, and Social Services Block Grant to assist low-income people. In a Wednesday letter, Commissioner Rankins stated that the IHL trustees had not approved the $5 million lease. He also asked White to correct any inaccuracies found in the report. Rankins wrote that the lease agreement had been reviewed by a Special Assistant to the Attorney General, and was recommended by the Attorney General’s Office to be approved by the Board of Trustees. The audit stated that the foundation’s lease was “transferred” by IHL to the university. White declined Rankins’ request for amendments to the report. According to the foundation’s lease, the nonprofit would use university athletic facilities for programming that “benefits the area’s underserved populations.” White denied Rankins’ request to amend the report. White wrote, “Instead of quibbling…perhaps your time could be spent providing the public the plan for the Wellness Centre to be used by Hattiesburg’s at-risk community and providing that information to me in writing.” “This will ensure that the TANF money paid for the Center can be used to benefit its intended beneficiaries.” IHL spokesperson Caronblanton refused to tell Mississippi Today why the board approved the university leasing agreement with the foundation. Blanton also did not explain to Mississippi Today whether the foundation was planning to sublease the university property to a federally funded nonprofit for $5million or if $5million is the average rate for such a lease. Blanton didn’t dispute the fact that IHL and Human Services knew that the money was coming from Human Services. James Coll, a university spokesperson, refused to answer questions. Leigh Breal, President of the Athletic Foundation, signed the lease with Mississippi Community Education Center. She did not respond to several calls and Facebook messages from her family trucking company. According to the auditor, although the entities entered into a lease agreement, they were actually donating in substance. Nancy New, the founder of the nonprofit, signed the lease. She is currently awaiting trial for her involvement in the embezzlement scheme to which she has pleaded not guilty. The audit also revealed that Mississippi Community Education Center contracted with University of Southern Mississippi for nearly $600,000. This was to fund “externships” that allowed psychology majors to “study in a real-world workplace environment.” According to the audit, the externships were at New Summit School, a private school that New owns. “Therefore, MCEC used TANF money to pay for temporary employees at (New Summit School)”. The nonprofit transferred $6.5 million in TANF money to New’s private school, New Learning Resources Inc. University of Southern Mississippi was not the only Mississippi school that received welfare dollars from Mississippi Community Education Center. Since former Director John Davis assumed control of the agency, the center had received approximately $65 million from Human Services. Davis was also indicted by a Hinds County grand jury and he pleaded guilty. Between 2018 and 2019, Mississippi State University received $816.282 for three programs that the auditor found did not comply with allowable cost guidelines. These included recruitment of students to the college of education, augmentative communications therapy, and dyslexia therapy at T.K. Martin Center for Technology and Disability. Sid Salter, spokesperson for Mississippi State University, stated that “First and foremost, we stand behind their validity and value in those services.” T.K. T.K. The non-profit also paid to advertise, sponsor and sometimes even purchase tickets for Mississippi State University’s basketball, baseball and football games. The university paid almost $317,000. Salter stated that the university’s advertising contractor received almost $317,000. Salter stated that the audit found it “unreasonable” to advertise for programs for the needy at college sporting events and the lack of compliance with stipulations in
The grant agreement and the absence of any correlation to how advertising
was done
The programmatic nature and benefits of the TANF program were also benefited.” Mississippi Community Education Center paid $236,000 in TANF for Belhaven University’s “leadership development” and $563,000. To Delta State University, the auditor questioned. William LaForge, President of Delta State University, stated that the grant was used to pay salaries of academic counselors to student-athletes. The auditor also questioned the payments of grant money from Mississippi Community Education Center and another non-profit Family Resource Center of North Mississippi totaling $645.394. TANF can be used to provide cash assistance for poor families, encourage employment, prevent out of wedlock pregnancies, and encourage two-parent families. TANF cannot be used to pay public K-12 expenses (doing so would be “passing on to the TANF programme the costs of State’s public educational system,” as the federal agency Office of Family Assistance stated in 2005). TANF can also not be used to purchase buildings or real estate. Some of the Mississippi TANF-funded organizations, including some that were questioned in this report, provided legitimate public services. The auditor couldn’t determine if funds were legally spent if entities didn’t have documentation showing who they served and if their clients were income-eligible. FBI is currently investigating the TANF scandal. The auditor’s report was presented to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They will use this information to determine if payments should be refunded. According to audit, Brett Favre was one of the recipients who received $1.1 million for speaking engagements that he did not attend. He voluntarily began repaying state. White stated that other recipients have reached out to him to express their desire to return the funds._x000D