Tag Archives: DHS

Head of TN child nutrition program quits after reports of questionable spending

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The director of an $80 million food program for impoverished children has resigned following a story in The Tennessean reporting at least $1.8 million in questionable spending last year by contractors.

Carmen Gentry tells the newspaper (http://tnne.ws/1MXpHIm ) she was threatened with demotion or worse after the story revealed problems that she blames on Tennessee Department of Human Services leadership.

After her resignation, Gentry sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services outlining her concerns. Chief among them is that Tennessee’s program that subcontracts with hundreds of agencies to feed 180,000 children during the school year and 42,000 children during the summer is mostly paper-based. She also complained that there is not enough staff to effectively administer the program and the staff lacks training.

DHS spokeswoman Stephanie Jarnagin disputed Gentry’s claims. She said the department recently made applications available online and is exploring other upgrades.

With regard to staff, she said in an email, “There are over 40 positions dedicated to working on the food programs in the Department. These positions are program staff, finance and administration staff, external program review staff and internal audit staff.”

She also listed several trainings that Gentry and her staff have attended.

Food and Nutrition Services acknowledged they have received Gentry’s letter and say it is under review.

Problems with the Tennessee program were uncovered by the state Comptroller’s office during an audit of the Child and Adult Care Food Program as well as a summer food program for children. In operating the programs in Tennessee, DHS distributes federal dollars to contractors providing snacks and meals to day care centers, mobile lunch buses, emergency shelters and recreational programs.

The audit found millions in questionable expenditures from the contractors. It concluded “DHS management had not ensured that critical controls and effective practices were in place and operating as needed,” and a lack of oversight “threatens the integrity of the programs.”

Oversight of the program has been a problem not just in Tennessee, but across the country, stretching back decades. In 1999, the federal General Accounting Office found that opportunities for waste, fraud and abuse were woven into the design of the program.

‘Extremely troubling’ audit: $732K misspent in feeding hungry children

Tennessee Department of Human Services officials signed off on more than $732,000 in questionable payments to ABC Nutrition Services during a five-year period, reports The Tennessean. The nonprofit agency, operated by Vivian Parker and her two daughters, operates a food program in rural West Tennessee intended to feed hungry children.

Parker’s salary plus bonus topped $100,000 last year. She was also reimbursed for the cost of remodeling her home office in Camden, adding a new deck and widening her driveway. Thousands more were spent on other perks: meals, hotel movies, late credit card fees and cable and internet services.

…That agency wasn’t the only one with questionable billing records discovered in the Department of Human Services-administered food programs responsible for stewarding the expenditures of close to $80 million to feed needy children and some adults.

Auditors with the state Comptroller’s office found that some state contractors billed for double the meals they were authorized to provide, failed to file proper paperwork, mysteriously lost paperwork when auditors arrived to inspect them, failed to ensure qualified children received meals and incorrectly calculated administrative expenses owed to them. All of those billing issues added up to $1.8 million in questionable payments last year in just the small sample of agencies auditors reviewed. In 2013, the questioned costs reached $4.3 million.

In some cases, children who were supposed to be fed may not ever have received a meal.

“DHS management had not ensured that critical controls and effective practices were in place and operating as needed,” the audit found. A lack of oversight “threatens the integrity of the programs.”

“The results of this investigation are extremely troubling,” Comptroller Justin Wilson said more pointedly about the failure by DHS to adequately monitor ABC Nutrition Services, which is located 90 miles west of Nashville in Benton County — a region where more than one in four children live in poverty.

“Hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars have been misspent by this organization over a five-year period,” Wilson said. “This underscores the importance of effective program monitoring and oversight.”

It is a finding that DHS officials strongly disagree with, even as they acknowledge that fraud and abuse remain a major challenge in the two federal food programs they oversee.

More charges in $170K food stamp fraud case

From The Lebanon Democrat:
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation special agents received additional indictments for a former employee of the Tennessee Department of Human Services in Lebanon and an alleged accomplice in an ongoing fraud case that involved the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

TBI special agents stared an investigation involving Tracey Deshaye Timbs, 44, of Pleasant Shade, on April 11, 2014 at the request of DHS and 15th District Attorney Tommy Thompson. During the investigation, agents developed information revealing a ring of people apparently involved in creating false SNAP benefit accounts and selling them for profit.

Both Timbs and Matthew Scott Nichols, 32, of Watertown, waived an open court reading of the initial indictment during an arraignment in July, and both pleaded not guilty. (Note: Timbs was indicted on 10 counts last year; Nichols on six. In the latest round, two new felony indictments were added for both.)

In early 2014, DHS officials believed possible fraudulent SNAP – previously referred to as food stamp – accounts were created and sold for profit out of its Lebanon office on Legends Drive, where Timbs worked as an eligibility counselor. Investigators further found Timbs apparently tampered with government records to create the accounts, producing EBT cards and identifying information, which were subsequently mailed to several people, including Nichols, in exchange for cash and drugs.

Investigators said Thursday they identified more than 40 false accounts with more than $170,000 in benefits distributed fraudulently. Department of Human Services officials fired Timbs from her job.

DHS seeks help in providing free summer meals to children

State officials are trying to fund more groups — including schools, private nonprofit organizations, government entities and nonprofit residential camps — to serve free meals to children this summer, reports the Times-Free Press.

During the school year, roughly 650,000 Tennessee children get free or reduced-priced school lunches… Last summer, only 42,000 youngsters participated in Tennessee’s Summer Food Service Program, according to officials from the state Department of Human Services, which runs the U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded program.

“When school is out, the need to reach more children is great,” said Devin Stone, spokesman for the state human services agency.

“[We’d like] as many as we can get to help meet the needs of the nearly 19,000 [children] in Hamilton County that are eligible,” Stone said.

Olivet Baptist Church on M.L. King Boulevard has agreed to participate. So has the city of Chattanooga, which will launch an “Eat and Greet” pilot program in which youths age 18 and under can get free breakfast and lunch at 15 of the city’s Youth and Family Development Centers. The meals — including one hot meal a week — will be prepared in the kitchen at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center and then will be delivered to the centers, said Enora “Nori” Moss, spokeswoman for the city’s Youth and Family Development department.

Audit finds $732K in ‘unauthorized disbursements’ by non-profit handling DHS funds

News release from state comptroller’s office:
An investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has revealed serious concerns related to ABC Nutrition Program, Inc. (ABC) in Camden, Tennessee. ABC is a non-profit organization that administers federal grant funds received from the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS) for the Child and Adult Care Food Program on behalf of 216 daycare homes and 120 daycare centers in Tennessee.

Comptroller investigators found that ABC had unauthorized disbursements of $732,702.91 between October 2008 and September 2014. Of that amount, $605,978.69 was used to provide bonuses and extra pay to the managers and employees of ABC. ABC is led by Chief Executive Officer Vivian Parker, and her daughters, Director of Daycare Centers Lisa Carter, and Director of Daycare Homes Tracy Coady.

Investigators also found $27,185.56 was spent on unauthorized construction and improvements to Vivian Parker’s home. The offices for ABC are located in the basement of Parker’s home. Additional unauthorized administrative disbursements totaled $99,538.66 for fiscal year 2014. None of these expenses were approved by DHS.

On February 19, 2015 the Benton County Grand Jury indicted Vivian Parker, Lisa Carter and Tracy Coady on one count of theft of property over $250,000, and one count of theft of property over $60,000.

Comptroller investigators also raised concerns about ABC’s purchasing procedures, travel policies and management oversight. Additionally, investigators noted several of the problems resulted from a lack of oversight by DHS.

“The results of this investigation are extremely troubling,” said Comptroller Justin P. Wilson. “Hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars have been misspent by this organization over a five year period. This underscores the importance of effective program monitoring and oversight.”

To view the investigation online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/ia/

DHS cutting 300 more jobs, many already vacant

The Tennessee department that oversees social service programs like food stamps is proposing cutting more than 300 jobs by the start of the 2016 budget year, according to The Tennessean.

That’s a drop of about 900 positions since the 2014 budget year.

Many of those jobs are vacant now, and won’t be needed thanks to the Department of Human Services no longer overseeing applications for TennCare, said Commissioner Raquel Hatter. The department previously oversaw applications for federal health services, but as of the start of this year TennCare stopped having state personnel help people submit applications directly to the state and simultaneously directed that applications be filed online at www.healthcare.gov.

Hatter outlined the department’s fiscal goals Monday during one of several budget hearings before Gov. Bill Haslam and other state administrators. In addition to fewer positions, the department also presented a budget that included about $9.6 million less for administrating the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as SNAP, and previously called food stamps).

Although Haslam asked all agencies to prepare budgets with a 7 percent cut compared to the previous year’s funding, Hatter said the department was headed toward cutting this money anyway. She said the cuts to the SNAP program would in no way actually affect benefits, only administrative costs related to the program.

TennCare’s old computer automatically sends false notices to some

From The Tennessean:
A state agency has been sending inaccurate letters to Tennesseans this year informing them they don’t qualify for Medicaid.

The letters are automatically generated by an outdated computer system when someone applies to the Department of Human Services for food stamps. The computer makes eligibility determinations according to old income guidelines — not the new ones set by the Affordable Care Act. And the letters are coming from an agency that as of Jan. 1 was supposed to stop making Medicaid eligibility determinations for TennCare.

“We were aware of the issue and are currently assessing the ability to make modifications without adversely impacting other important services that the legacy system supports,” said Devin Stone, a communications officer for DHS. “It should be noted, despite the challenges of transitioning with a legacy system, we are still delivering services. It has not proven to be a barrier to services.”

Chris Coleman, a lawyer with the Tennessee Justice Center who has filed suit against the heads of DHS and TennCare, said the letters are causing harm. The suit accuses the agencies of violating federal law by creating barriers to people seeking enrollment.

“These are totally false notices that are apparently auto-generated with the food stamp notice,” Coleman said. “Individuals receiving these notices may never have applied for TennCare, and they certainly have not been found ineligible.”

…TennCare is relying on the old DHS computer because a new $35.7 million system it is building is a year behind schedule. The DHS computer was supposed to have been replaced.

Fired DHS worker charged with $150K in food stamp fraud

Authorities say they’ve snared a former state employee and an accomplice in a far-reaching food stamps fraud operation run out of a state office in Lebanon, according to The Tennessean.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said ten indictments have come down against Tracey Deshaye Timbs, 43, of Smith County, and six charges against Michael Nichols, 31, of Gallatin.

A three-month TBI investigation spun out of concerns within the Department of Human Services, which oversees food stamps — officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

DHS learned of fraudulent food stamp accounts being created and sold of the Lebanon office on Legends Drive, where Timbs worked as an eligibility counselor, according to the TBI. She also tampered with government records and created bogus benefits cards — at least 40 false accounts with more than $150,000 in fraudulent benefits — including some exchanged for cash and drugs, authorities said.

DHS terminated Timbs, who is charged with identity theft trafficking, official misconduct, food stamp fraud, records tampering and fraudulent receipt of temporary assistance. Nichols is charged with three counts each of food stamp fraud and fraudulent receipt of temporary assistance.

Both were booked into the Wilson County Jail and released after posting bonds. The investigation could lead to more charges, authorities said.

TN DHS gets $5M bonus for improving food stamp services

News release from state Department of Human Services
NASHVILLE, TN – The Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS) has been recognized by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for high performance in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

According to the USDA, for the first time in DHS history, it has been recognized as No. 1 in the nation for most improvement in Case and Procedural Error Rate (CAPER), a measurement directly related to improvement in efficiency and customer service. Tennessee’s CAPER rate decreased from 46.28 percent in FY 2012 to 23.51 percent in FY 2013. This rate also falls below the national average of 25.25 percent.

The USDA also recognized DHS as having the sixth best SNAP payment accuracy rate in the nation for FY 2013. This national measure indicates the rate of SNAP cases with overpayments and underpayments based upon benefits for which a household is entitled. This measurement is directly related to program integrity.

“We continue to focus on making state government more customer-focused, efficient and effective for Tennessee taxpayers, and I am grateful to Commissioner Hatter and her team at DHS for their hard work,” Gov. Bill Haslam said.

“A special thanks goes to our staff – frontline and management – who have implemented new business processes that continue to help us identify opportunities to become more efficient, to better address program integrity, manage workloads, improve customer service, and exercise better stewardship of taxpayer dollars,” DHS Commissioner Raquel Hatter said.

DHS’s achievements are accompanied by performance bonuses from the USDA of approximately $5 million, which must be invested in technology, program integrity, and administration linked to the provision of SNAP. DHS will invest the funds in its 21st Century Family Assistance Service Delivery Model and modernization effort.

The Department of Human Services mission is to offer temporary economic assistance, work opportunities, and protective services to improve the lives of Tennesseans. Learn more at http://www.tn.gov/humanserv/.

State may resume helping some people apply for Medicaid/TennCare

Tennessee remains the only state that has handed its Medicaid application process over to the federal government, but state officials say they are moving to provide some face-to-face help for people struggling with the new application process, reports the Chattanooga TFP.

This spring, members of the state’s Department of Human Services staff went through training to become certified counselors who can help people with the process, which primarily steers Tennesseans through HealthCare.gov to apply for TennCare.

The state offices used to be where people could go to apply in person for TennCare. A branch of the office determined TennCare eligibility and worked with applicants to make sure they applied for the right kind of benefits.

But on Jan. 1, the state decided to remove the TennCare arm of human services and instead turned that process over to the federal government through the new marketplace, HealthCare.gov.

The move has sparked fierce criticism from health advocates, who say that hundreds of people seeking coverage through TennCare have struggled to navigate the web-based system, or have since become stuck in bureaucratic limbo as they’re shuffled between state and federal hotlines.

“Those assisting with enrollment have known how important real in-person assistance is, especially for people trying to deal with the intricacies of TennCare,” said Gordon Bonnyman, attorney with the Tennessee Justice Center.

TennCare officials did not address that criticism when explaining why they decided to restore some in-person help, but said the counseling training “would better position DHS workers as they provide in-person assistance to individuals applying for coverage,” said TennCare spokeswoman Sarah Tanksley in an email.

All local human services offices are supposed to have at least one employee who has completed that training.

The return of some in-person assistance at the state offices sparked a “rush of relief” among those advocacy groups, Bonnyman said. But he said it has since become clear that “not much had really changed,” since the counselors primarily just help with the federal website.

“The DHS offices still do not provide the public what they used to provide, what every other state provides their residents, and what the law requires,” Bonnyman said. “DHS does not actually take applications and get them resolved. … That just doesn’t work for many people, as every other state recognizes.”

… TennCare officials have said the current enrollment process is the best way to handle sign-ups while they try to finish a new computer system that has now been delayed for months.

The $35.7 million system, called the “Tennessee Eligibility Determination System” or “TEDS,” was supposed to start making TennCare enrollment decisions as early as last fall.

But the system is still not ready, and there is no projected completion date, TennCare officials say. The first phase of testing for TEDS is scheduled to be completed in the next few weeks, officials said.

“The state is committed to thoroughly testing TEDS and all of its interfaces to ensure that eligibility determinations for Medicaid and CHIP are done accurately and efficiently,” Tanksley said.