NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Department of Human Services has terminated its former budget coordinator after an audit found he failed to file reports to the federal government.
According to The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/15R6QuU), the audit stated Adeniyi Bakare had problems filing documents online for millions of dollars’ worth of federally funded programs. Auditors said Bakare didn’t contact federal agencies to see why the errors occurred.
The newspaper said Bakare, whose employment ended July 5, couldn’t be contacted for comment. Officials said the failure to file reports was a major factor in his dismissal.
“We take the audit very seriously because it speaks to how we operate,” said Basil Dosunmu, DHS deputy commissioner of finance and administration. “We know we have a role in fiscal stewardship.”
Grants have not been revoked, but auditors noted that failing to account for them could result in forfeiting funds.
News release from state Department of Human Services:
NASHVILLE, TN (June 17, 2013) – New Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) applicants will need to apply on October 1 instead of July 1. Administration of the federal program designed to assist households of low income pay utility bills will be transferred from the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS) to the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA) effective October 1, 2013.
Given LIHEAP’s transition to THDA, funds offered through the program will now be awarded to coincide with the federal fiscal year beginning October 1.
“Transitioning LIHEAP was identified during our Customer Focused Government process, formally known as the Top to Bottom Review, as a potential opportunity to increase efficiency and effectiveness in service to the people of Tennessee, said Department of Human Services’ Commissioner Raquel Hatter. “DHS is excited about this transition to improve customer service through better service alignment. We look forward to continued collaboration with community partners and THDA.”
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander says that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius may be breaking federal law by raising money and working with private groups to help roll out the federal health care law “outside of the government,” according to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. “Secretary Sebelius’ fundraising for and coordinating with private entities helping to implement the new health care law may be illegal, should cease immediately and should be fully investigated by Congress,” Alexander said.
The ranking Republican on the Senate committee that oversees health care policy, Alexander likened Sebelius’ actions to the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal. That erupted when it was discovered that a Reagan administration official, Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, sold arms to Iran and sent some of the money through private groups to arm Nicaraguan rebels after Congress refused to appropriate funds for that purpose.
“Only the Congress has the authority to appropriate money,” Alexander told reporters in Nashville. “And when the secretary seeks to do things outside of the government, which Congress refuses to do, the Constitution doesn’t permit [it] and the federal law makes it illegal.”
Alexander cited a Washington Post article from last week. The Post reported Sebelius was asking health industry executives, community organizations and church groups to assist groups like Enroll America, a nonprofit coalition working to ensure Americans get enrolled for coverage under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Asked for comment, HHS spokesman Jason Young said in an email to the Times Free Press on Saturday that the practice is legal. He emphasized that “the Secretary has made no fundraising requests to entities regulated by HHS.”
“Part of our mission is to help uninsured Americans take advantage of new affordable, high quality insurance options that are coming, thanks to the health law,” he said.
For the last several months, Young said, Sebelius “has been working with a full range of stakeholders who share in the mission of getting Americans the help they need and deserve. We have always worked with outside groups, and the efforts now ramping up are just one more part of that work.” Note: Alexander’s press release is below.
Tennessee officials are halting work on a multi-million dollar computer project after years of missed deadlines and design defects, reports The Tennessean. Department leaders offered little detail on Friday about what went wrong or what will happen next.
“This is a very complex project overall,” said Tricia Reinhard, DHS finance and administration director. “We’re examining every alternative we have, including what we already have in place with VIP.”
The project was launched in 2005 with a $37 million price tag and a four-year contract awarded to Atlanta-based Albion Inc., according to a news release at the time. The company won a competitive bid against four others.
Officials wanted the system to replace the outdated ACCENT software created in 1992, before major changes to the way the department oversees its programs and funding were set in motion.
But the first targeted completion date came and went in 2009.
A state comptroller audit in 2012 said the software was designed and being tested, but that changes were in the works, “due to defects in current designs or new functionality requirements.” The completion date was pushed back to April 1 of this year.
Auditors said that midway through 2011, DHS had spent $18.6 million, with an additional $19.5 million budgeted for the rest of the effort.
The department also budgeted $1.2 million to pay other companies for quality assurance, most of which was spent — bringing the total spent on the program so far to just under $20 million.
In late 2012, department spokeswoman Devin Stone said deadlines were put off “to ensure that the department is building the best possible IT system.”
Reinhard wouldn’t detail what caused delays.
“We intended to have a project end date of 2009 and now it is 2013,” she said.
News release from state Comptroller’s Office:
Taxpayer money has been used to cover $2 million for travel expenses, meals and entertainment, mobile communications devices and subsidies for a training complex and resort property used by the Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency, an investigation by the Comptroller’s Division of Investigations has revealed.
Among other issues, investigators found that agency officials spent nearly $60,000 on an annual trip to Washington, D.C., more than $1.6 million to subsidize its training complex and resort property, $123,000 for gift certificates for training events, more than $100,000 annually on 160 mobile communication devices for employees, and thousands of dollars for extravagant meals and entertainment.
The Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency serves 14 counties in the Cumberland Plateau region with a 63-member board comprised of various county and city mayors and derives the vast majority of its funding from state and federal governments.
The developments concerning the Living the Dream project and the Upper Cumberland Development District has now gone to the state level, reports the Cookeville Herald-Citizen. The latest development involves State Rep. Ryan Williams filing a resolution for the comptroller to conduct a statewide audit of each development district and human resource agency in the state.
“There have been reports of other instances regarding similar instances in other communities happening in other areas,” Williams said. “We’re just trying to steward the taxpayers’ dollar better and understand how these (agencies) operate.”
Originally, Williams proposed a bill asking the legislature to create a special joint committee to study issues pertaining to development districts and human resource agencies in the state — including, but not limited to, the sources of funding for, the functions of and the community services provided by such development districts and resource agencies.
However, that bill was never presented due to the fiscal impact it would have. (Note: A quick check of the legislative website indicates no bill by Williams was filed on the subject; ergo, no fiscal note. Also, I thought they already did audits of HRAs and DDs.)
This new resolution (HJR818) states, “it is the duty of this general assembly to ensure that the UCDD and the remainder of Tennessee’s development districts, and human resource agencies, are being operated upon sound management principles and with fiscal responsibility; now, therefore, be it resolved by the House of Representatives of the 107th General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, the Senate concurring, we hereby request the Comptroller of the Treasury to conduct an audit of each development district and human resource agency in this state, including, but not limited to, the sources of funding for, the functions of, and the community services provided by each development district and human resource agency.”
News release from House Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The effort to combat human trafficking received a major boost today with passage of an important bill in the Tennessee House of Representatives. If the bill becomes law, victims of human trafficking offenses would have a civil right of action for actual damages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, injunctive relief, any combination of these, or any other appropriate relief.
Representative Jim Coley (R–Bartlett), a strong advocate for the rights of victims, celebrated the passage of House Bill 2489–a personal priority for Coley. The legislation passed with unanimous, bipartisan support.
The East Tennessee Human Resource Agency is doing its part to help Tennesseans comply with the state’s new voter ID law, according to the News Sentinel. Photo ID cards are being offered at no cost to registered voters at driver service centers throughout the state. And several county clerk offices, including Knox County’s, have begun offering free photo driver’s licenses to replace outdated, non-photo licenses.
ETHRA now hopes to further aid citizens’ access to the voting process by offering its extensive public transportation system for those unable to make the trip to obtain a new ID.
“It will be incorporated as part of our regular transportation program,” said Sandy Lamb, ETHRA operations and services director. “Hopefully, people won’t be discouraged from voting.”
ETHRA operates a fleet of more than 100 vehicles throughout Knox and 15 surrounding counties. ETHRA drivers complete 1,400 trips each day, helping connect people with dialysis centers, doctors’ offices, jobs, senior centers, grocery stores and more, Lamb said.
Release from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today announced $40 million in grants for efforts to identify and enroll children eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Grants were awarded to 39 state agencies, community health centers, school-based organizations and non-profit groups in 23 states. The two-year grants are authorized under the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA) of 2009.
“Today’s grants will help us identify and enroll children in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, ensuring that more children have the health care they need,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Keeping Americans healthy from a young age is the right thing to do, and it saves money by avoiding preventable diseases and conditions as they get older. The activities we are funding will help eligible children get covered, stay healthy and prepare them to succeed in school.” The grants will build on the Secretary’s Connecting Kids to Coverage Challenge to find and enroll all eligible children and support outreach strategies that have been shown to be successful. Grants were made in five focus areas:
1) Using technology to facilitate enrollment and renewal (approximately $20 million to ten grantees)
2) Retaining eligible children in coverage (approximately $3 million to four grantees)
3) Engaging schools in outreach, enrollment and renewal activities (approximately $5 million to seven grantees)
4) Reaching children who are most likely to experience gaps in coverage (approximately $10 million to fourteen grantees)
5) Ensuring eligible teens are enrolled and stay covered (approximately $3 million to four grantees).
Grant amounts range from $200,000 to $2.5 million with the largest grants going to the technology focus area. For a list of grantees, please visit: http://www.insurekidsnow.gov/professionals/reports/chipra/CHIPRA-Cycle-II-Grant-Summaries.pdf
“We are making great progress enrolling eligible children in Medicaid and CHIP and the grants released today help keep these important efforts moving forward. They are a part of our commitment to help all eligible children get the health coverage they need,” said Cindy Mann, CMS deputy administrator and director of the Center for Medicaid, CHIP and Survey & Certification.
A new study just released by the Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that, despite an increase in eligible children between 2008 and 2009, the total number of eligible but uninsured children declined from 4.7 million in 2008 to 4.3 million in 2009, in part due to outreach and enrollment efforts.
Efforts to streamline Medicaid and CHIP enrollment and renewal practices, combined with robust outreach activities, have helped reduce the numbers of uninsured children. For example, Oregon, a previous CHIPRA outreach grantee, has cut its percentage of uninsured children in half, from 11.3 percent in 2009 to 5.6 percent in 2011. In the past two years, Oregon enrolled 94,000 eligible children in Medicaid and CHIP. In addition to its efforts in reducing paperwork for families and establishing a timely and cost-effective online application process, Oregon used its grant funding to provide direct one-on-one enrollment assistance to families and conduct vigorous outreach activities throughout the school system.
“We want to help others achieve what Oregon has accomplished and more,” said CMS Administrator Donald M. Berwick, M.D. “Simplifying enrollment and renewal systems and ensuring that signing up for health coverage is standard practice in schools and health centers are central to sustaining the progress we’ve made. The CHIPRA grants are designed to support these efforts that will have lasting effects.”
Today’s CHIPRA outreach grant announcement follows the August 12, 2011 release of a joint letter from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to the nation’s governors urging them to encourage schools to “undertake children’s health coverage outreach and enrollment activities when classes begin this fall.” The letter suggests promising strategies such as enlisting school athletic coaches to help promote enrollment. HHS is supporting such efforts by providing a strategy guide to states, schools, community groups, and other stakeholders as part of the “Get Covered, Get in the Game” initiative the agency conducted in 2010 with CHIPRA funding.
CHIPRA, together with the Affordable Care Act, allocates a total of $140 million for enrollment and renewal outreach, including $112 million in grants to states, community groups and health care providers, $14 million specifically for organizations serving American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN), and $14 million reserved for national enrollment campaign activities. The first $40 million in grants, as well as $10 million in AI/AN grants, were awarded in 2009 and 2010, respectively.