Tag Archives: nutrition

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.”

Legislators chipping in to ‘Hunters for the Hungry’ program

The Tennessee Wildlife Federation reports growing success in efforts to have state legislators donate from their campaign funds to a program for providing venison to the needy.

The “Hunters for the Hungry” program, affiliated with the federation since 1998, involves deer hunters donating a slain animal to groups that provide food to organizations serving the hungry, such as Second Harvest Food Bank in Knoxville.

Hunters for the Hungry has recruited 83 meat processors statewide to convert the deer carcasses into frozen venison at a reduced processing price, typically about $40 per deer, according to the foundation’s executive director, Mike Butler.

To cover that cost, Hunters for the Hungry solicits charitable donations. The “legislative challenge” to seek funding from politicians had its origins three years ago when state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, embraced and promoted the program as chairman of the Legislature’s Nutrition Caucus, Butler said. More recently, state Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson, and Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, have played leadership roles, he said. Continue reading

Comptroller: Operator of child nutrition program stole $162,165

News release from state comptroller’s office
A special investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has found that Jeannette Jives-Nealy stole $162,165 in federal grant funds. Ms. Jives-Nealy operated Kingdom Dominion Worldwide Ministries, Inc., in Memphis, TN, and received grant funds through the Summer Food Service Program for Children, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program administered by the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS). This investigation was completed in conjunction with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

During June and July 2014, Jeanette Jives-Nealy received money for the purpose of providing free meals to children living in economically disadvantaged areas during the summer months. Although Ms. Jives-Nealy claimed she fed thousands of children, investigators determined that all of the money was converted to personal use.

Ms. Jives-Nealy received the grant funds even though they she did not supply any credible documentation to DHS verifying that they were actually acquiring, preparing, and providing food to children. When state auditors asked to review documentation, Ms. Jives-Nealy claimed the records had been destroyed by flooding that had occurred earlier in the day. In October 2014, DHS issued a letter to Kingdom Dominion demanding a full repayment of the grant amount.

On April 26, 2016, Jeannette Jives-Nealy was indicted by the Shelby County Grand Jury on one count of theft over $60,000.

“Whenever a program allows for cash advances, it’s important that program administrators carefully monitor how the money is being used,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “It is disappointing to learn that such a large sum of public money could be provided without any credible documents to support the feeding of children. The victims in this case include not only taxpayers, but the thousands of children who may have otherwise been fed.”

Note: The full report is HERE. And Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, has sent out a press release declaring the theft would never have taken place if a bill (SB1472) he successfully sponsored this year (along with Rep. Tim Wirgau, R-Buchanan) had been in effect at the time. It’s below. Continue reading

DHS defends child nutrition program from comptroller critique

At a legislative hearing, the head of the Department of Human Services Tuesday defended the agency’s operation of a food service program that has faced scrutiny following the release of several audits.

From The Tennessean:

Justin P. Wilson, the state’s comptroller, began a meeting convened by the Senate Investigations and Oversight subcommittee and likened the Department of Human Services to someone struggling with alcoholism.

“You can’t really solve a problem until you acknowledge that the problem is really there,” Wilson said, after ending a nearly 40-minute presentation outlining a series of audits his office performed that revealed significant problems with the department’s handling of food programs that provide nutritious food to children at risk for hunger.

Wilson argued that Human Services was currently operating with a handful of controls providing oversight of its operations, which he said were akin to having a building having just a few smoke detectors. Wilson suggested the department needed an entire sprinkler system in order to move forward.

During her portion of the presentation, Commissioner Raquel Hatter pushed back against the allegations that the department didn’t believe there were problems.

“On some level, we have been misinterpreted or misunderstood,” she said, adding that Human Services has made improvements on a variety of its functions, including an increase in the number of meals provided in food service programs and bolstering accuracy and timeliness of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

While facing questions from Sen. Bo Watson about the fact that the comptroller found issues with the department’s handling of the program dating back to 2011, Hatter told the panel that they have made improvements in recent years, while pointing out that the job requirement for the person handling the program has changed.

The panel also heard from Monica Jones, who is overseeing the food program, who vowed to work to correct the agency’s handling of the initiative.

The hearing was called in response to three critical audits released over a two-week span by the Tennessee comptroller late last month. One audit released March 29 questioned $11.4 million in spending by DHS, most of that on its food programs. It described multiple violations of federal regulations and basic accounting practices. These included a lack of documentation for monies spent on food, a lack of verification that the agencies DHS contracts with are eligible to participate in the food program and staffing shortages at DHS that threatened its ability to provide oversight and prevent potential fraud, waste and abuse.

Another audit criticizes DHS child nutrition program

For the third time this month, the state Comptroller’s Office has released an audit critical of a child nutrition programs overseen by the Department of Human Services, reports The Tennessean. In this one, $11.4 million in spending is questioned.

Most of the spending questioned in Tuesday’s audit involved food programs for low-income kids. The programs have been pored over by lawmakers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and have been the subject of an ongoing Tennessean investigation. Last week, the Comptroller issued two separate reports on private agencies now under criminal investigation for pocketing tens of thousands of dollars in food program funds that never made it to children.

The $80 million food program is intended to provide meals and snacks to kids who lack access to nutritious food in a Tennessee, where one in five children is at risk for hunger. The funds come from the federal government, but DHS is responsible for overseeing the programs. DHS contracts with private agencies, providing the money for food purchases distributed in child care centers, after-school and recreational programs.

Tuesday’s audit called into question more than 10 percent of the food program’s annual operating budget, based only on a review of a small sample of private agencies participating. The audit described multiple violations of federal regulations and basic accounting practices, including a lack of documentation for monies spent on food, a lack of verification that the agencies DHS contracts with are eligible to participate in the food programs and staffing shortages at DHS that threatened its ability to provide oversight and prevent potential fraud, waste and abuse.

In several examples cited in the audit, DHS provided cash advances for food purchases to agencies that never requested them. In one example, DHS provided a $311,993 cash advance to an agency whose entire annual operating budget was $124,000. In another example, an agency receiving an un-asked-for cash advance said it was waiting for DHS to ask for it back.

The audit places responsibility for the oversight failures on DHS management, including its commissioner, Raquel Hatter.

Hatter — through spokeswoman Stephanie Jarnagin on Tuesday — declined an interview request… Jarnagin sent a statement from DHS that said, in part: “It is important to note that while State Audit has questioned costs in their findings, it does not mean that the questioned costs are specifically the result of fraud, waste or abuse.”

Audits find misdeeds in two child nutrition operations

In separate audits released today, the state Comptroller’s office has found misdeeds afoot in two child nutrition programs — on in Nashville, the other in Clarksville.

The news releases are below, along with a statement from the Department of Human Services disagreeing with some of the auditors’ comments.
Continue reading

Sub kills bills on fluoride in water, genetically modified food

In its final meeting, the House Agriculture Subcommittee killed bills to put new restrictions on fluoride in drinking water and to require labeling of food from genetically modified plants.

The fluoride bill would impose new requirements on water systems for reporting the amount of fluoride they add to water to officials — or that naturally occurs — and providing notice to consumers. The bill specifies that the notice include a warning that “the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that children aged birth through eight (8) years are at risk of developing dental fluorosis by consuming fluoride during the time when teeth are forming under their gums.”

Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Old Hickory, sponsor of HB949, said it would simply mean “informed consent” for consumers and “all we’re asking for is disclosure.”

But critics said the measure would discourage use of fluoride, which has proven benefits, and the language used in the legislation makes inaccurate statements. TennCare officials, the panel was told, suggest the “overregulation” of fluoride would prompt many water systems to discontinue use, leading to a 16 percent increase in tooth decay that would cost TennCare’s dental program $24 million.

The measure was killed on voice vote with no member recorded as supporting it — though Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, voiced some support during the brief debate.

Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis, brought two bills before the subcommittee dealing with labeling of products.

HB1217 would require that plants and seeds sold in Tennessee be labeled to indicate open pollination, genetic modification, and hybridization.

HB1218, entitled the “Genetically Engineered Food Labeling Act,” would require foods from genetically modified plants be labeled as such.

“We just want people to know what we’re putting in our bodies,” Towns said. “That’s all this is.”

But Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, said such legislation is “unfounded and baseless” and told Towns “you’ve eaten this (genetically modified food) every day of your life for the last eight or 10 years.”

Vermont enacted similar legislation, Holt said, costing “millions” to be spent unnecessarily.

The first bill failed when Towns could not get the necessary seconding motion for passage from a subcommittee member. The second got a seconding motion, then was killed on voice vote.

DHS meals-for-kids program under scrutiny again

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Department of Human Services program that provides meals to children at risk for hunger is under scrutiny over a lack of oversight.

The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/1Ubonsj ) reports that a federal review issued last month found multiple instances of lax oversight by the DHS. The review also found there is a lack of adequate level of staffing to properly oversee the program.

According to the review, the department currently has three open positions for department auditors who are supposed to review the program for waste, fraud and abuse.

Lawmakers are now working on oversight measures for the DHS.

State Sen. Jim Tracy says the measures would make sure that contractors are getting food to children in need. His bill would require the DHS to provide regular reports to lawmakers.

Lawsuit filed against DHS child nutrition program

An agency that contracted with the Department of Human Services to feed low-income kids in Memphis has filed suit, alleging it was wrongly terminated from the program, reports The Tennessean.

Building Futures was among the larger non-profit providers of meals and snacks for poor children in Tennessee. It was one of hundreds of non-profit agencies that contract with DHS to distribute food in Tennessee, where one in four children is at risk for hunger. DHS paid Building Futures up to $400,000 per month in 2014 for serving food at 124 sites throughout Shelby County.

But DHS and Building Futures are at odds over the exact number of meals served. DHS terminated Building Futures from its program earlier this year, barring its husband and wife operators, Bailey Phillips and Lisa Turner, from working for any similar program. The company had been operating in Arkansas for six years. Because Tennessee placed the couple on a list of banned operators, they also lost their contract with Arkansas, according to a spokeswoman with the Arkansas Department of Human Services.

The lawsuit against DHS comes as the department faces criticisms over poor oversight of two programs designed to reach at-risk children with nutritious meals. DHS is responsible for operating the Child and Adult Care Food Program, as well as a summer food program for children — distributing close to $80 million in federal dollars to middlemen like Building Futures.

An audit by the Tennessee Comptroller questioned millions of dollars in payments to some agencies, and cited poor oversight and fraud. DHS officials have said some of those payments were about incorrect paperwork, rather than fraud.

Fraud in child food programs blamed on ‘understaffed and disorganized’ DHS

At least four companies that opened Tennessee operations as nonprofit efforts to feed poor children are under investigation for fraud, reports The Tennessean. The state Department of Human Services’ recently-resigned director of food programs says the state’s lax enforcement of rules is encouraging such things.

Carmen Gentry, said the state has attracted unscrupulous actors because of its reputation for poor oversight.

“They know to come to Tennessee because we are so disorganized and understaffed,” said Gentry, who resigned in July after a Tennessean report on potentially millions of dollars paid to agencies that never provided food to children.

“What they can’t get away with in neighboring states or their own states they know we can get away with in Tennessee,” she said. “You can’t run an $80 million federal program with hundreds of sponsors and agencies that are participating with six to eight full-time staff members. Most states have at least 20 to 30 to 40 people working on these programs.”

DHS spokeswoman Stephanie Jarnagin disputed Gentry’s characterization, saying, “USDA FNS (the federal food program oversight agency) has not identified this for Tennessee, nor do we have any indication that this is the case. However we have increased oversight of the programs since 2011 as part of our ongoing efforts to improve program integrity.”

Jarnagin cited design flaws in the federal program. Among them, there is no “National Disqualified List” for the summer food program that would have enabled DHS in the case of Kingdom Ministries to learn Nealy’s background — or those of other agency operators who had been found to have committed fraud in other states.

Gentry and DHS also are at odds over how well staffed the federal food programs are. Gentry said there were no more than eight full-time staff members while she directed the program — with DHS employees working until late at night each workday to process applications. Jarnagin said there were “over 40 positions dedicated to working on the food programs in the department.” USDA officials said last week based on their visit to Nashville, there were fewer than 10 employees directly working in Tennessee’s food programs.

DHS officials point out that Kingdom Dominion Worldwide Ministries, Teen Angels and Community Hospitality Outreach Program have all been terminated from the program. The agency has since implemented improvements in oversight, including conducting criminal background checks and a scanning system to reduce paperwork.

But the examples of subcontractor misspending illustrate how easy it is for bad actors to game the system in Tennessee. Some Tennessee-based agencies establish themselves as nonprofits just weeks or months before applying to be a DHS subcontractor, only to disband and disappear soon after raking in tens of thousands of dollars from the food program.

Holy Ground Christian Ministries established itself as a Tennessee agency in June. DHS is now trying to recoup more than $79,000 from the agency. Sweet Serenity House established itself in 2013 before applying to be a food program operator. The state is trying to get it to repay more than $192,000.

Kingdom Dominion Worldwide Ministries