DHS reports to legislators on child nutrition program

State Department of State Human Services Commissioner Raquel Hatter told legislators Thursday that the department is making progress in dealing with troubles in an $80 million program that provides food to low-income children.

From The Tennessean:

Hatter on Thursday told lawmakers with the Senate Finance Ways & Means Investigations and Oversight subcommittee that the department had made progress in implementing a new computer system to better track subcontractors who distribute meals and snacks to children. Hatter described how the agency is meeting the requirements of the new law, requiring subcontractors to obtain bonds, running criminal background checks and better training staff.

In previous hearings, Justin Wilson, the state comptroller, has been critical of DHS for not acknowledging the extent of the problems with the program, which is intended to feed children at risk for hunger during the summer months and in after-school and other programs during the school year, when public schools provide free meals.

“You can’t really solve a problem until you acknowledge that the problem is really there,” Wilson said earlier this year. “It’s time for DHS to admit they have a problem.”

On Thursday, Lauren Plunk, the comptroller’s deputy chief of staff, told lawmakers that auditors are reviewing DHS once again as part of an annual audit of all state agencies receiving federal funds and expect to release their report next spring.

“We believe there is a path forward if everybody is willing to understand the fundamental issues at hand,” she said.

Hatter told lawmakers that the agency was “helping to reposition Tennessee’s food program (to) make it stronger than it has ever been in its history.”