Posts Tagged ‘welfare’

Legislative Audit Finds Welfare Benefits Paid To Deceased Clients, Some Funds Spent After Death

By Sean Whaley | 1:16 pm September 19th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A legislative audit released today says that the state Welfare Division needs to do a better job of identifying when clients receiving benefits have passed away.

The audit, reviewed today by the Legislative Commission’s Audit Subcommittee, found 189 instances of people listed by a separate state agency as having passed away between July 1, 2007 and Dec. 31, 2009 that were listed by the division as still living.

Legislative auditors tested Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards used to provide benefits in 50 of the cases. They found that the division paid more than $11,500 in benefits to 27 of the 50 clients after their dates of death.

Benefits were paid by the agency up to 10 months after the clients died. The state’s vendor for the EBT program later removed $7,225 of unused benefits from the accounts.

Benefits provided to Nevadans include food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and a cash grant program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Auditors also found that EBT cards in some cases were used after the dates of death of the clients.

Of the 50 cases tested, 13 were found where SNAP transactions using the cards had occurred after the clients’ dates of death. The transactions totaled $6,502 and took place from 13 to 247 days after the clients’ dates of death.

The audit made five recommendations to correct the issues found in the review, and all were accepted by the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services.

Lawmakers serving on the subcommittee noted that the amounts involved in such cases were small compared to the nearly $500 million in SNAP benefits provided to Nevadans in federal fiscal year 2011. The SNAP program is entirely federally funded.

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, said no one should take money that is not due to them, but the incidents of potential abuse found in the audit appear to be few.

“If we’re talking $497 million in SNAP monies in the year 2011, and we’re looking at the possibility of it might be $6,000 worth of problems, it just seems like such a small amount and such a small problem compared to all the benefits that are being paid out here,” she said.

Legislative Auditor Paul Townsend said auditors also identified potential fraudulent activity during the review.

“It does point out there is a problem there,” he said. “It’s not a huge problem but the problem does exist. And along the way we also found some instances where there’s possibly some fraudulent activity taking place where someone is actually getting a card issued after their date of death.”

Steve Fisher, acting administrator of the division, said the flaws found in the review are serious and need to be addressed. He noted, however, that the benefits are available to an entire household, so even if a client passes away, other family members might use the EBT cards to access the benefits.

The agency is actively working on implementing all five of the recommendations, Fisher said.

The agency has an investigative unit to look for instances of fraud to recover benefits paid inappropriately, and criminal prosecutions can occur as well.

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Audio clips:

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton says the incidents of potential abuse are few compared to the amount of benefits provided:

091912Carlton :26 paid out here.”

Legislative Auditor Paul Townsend says some evidence of fraudulent activity was uncovered during the review:

091912Townsend :16 date of death.”

 

Qualifications Of New Welfare Administrator Called Into Question

By Sean Whaley | 8:48 am December 14th, 2011

CARSON CITY – For the second time in two years questions are being raised about the qualifications of Diane Comeaux, a top state human services administrator, to do her job.

The director of the agency said he has complete faith in her abilities.

Mike Willden has appointed Comeaux, who currently serves as the administrator of the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS), to the administrator position over the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services (DWSS). The appointment will occur in early 2012.

Willden, director of the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), said Comeaux’s experience is “pretty much unmatchable when it comes to administration.”

But Comeaux does not have a college degree. The state law listing the qualifications for the position says a college degree is required.

Nevada Child and Family Services Administrator Diane Comeaux

Willden acknowledged that Nevada Revised Statutes could be interpreted to mean that a college degree is required for Comeaux’s new position, but he said her administrative experience makes her qualified for the appointment.

Comeaux’s current position does not require a college degree but questions were raised about her qualifications for the job in an article published in November 2009 by the Nevada News Bureau.

In addition to her current position which she has held since June of 2008, Comeaux also worked as the deputy administrator of Medicaid and as the deputy administrator at Child and Family Services.

“Altogether she’s been 10 years in top ranked positions in DHHS,” Willden said. “And so, no bones, Diane doesn’t have a degree but she has years of experience as a state executive, and running DCFS is every bit as difficult and responsible as DWSS.”

State law regarding the top welfare position says that the administrator must be selected based on training, experience, and interest in the field; be a graduate from an accredited college; have at least three years of administrative experience; and possess qualities of leadership. The job description was changed by the Nevada Legislature in 2005.

But Willden said he has consulted with the state Human Resource Management Division and it was the interpretation of the agency that all of the listed requirements could be considered in making an appointment and that not all of the qualifications had to be met.

The legislative intent of Assembly Bill 13 of the 2005 session, a measure sought by DHHS to open up the applicant pool for the welfare position, also makes this clear, he said. Willden said he has not sought out a formal legal opinion on the question of Comeaux’s eligibility.

Minutes of a hearing on the bill in the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee in 2005 include this exchange:

“So the main gist of the bill is to broaden it so that you can have more people to pick from?” asked then-Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno.

“That’s correct,” said then-welfare administrator Nancy Ford. “Currently the statute says you have to have three years of experience running a public welfare agency, which is pretty restrictive. You also have the catchall ‘or equivalent training and experience.’ But it is pretty restrictive. This would help liberalize it to make our pool of candidates bigger.”

Willden said: “Yes, we’re interested in a college degree, but that has to be balanced with other training, experience, those types of things.”

Comeaux’s experience is worth more than a college degree, he said.

Willden also said that while the appointment of Comeaux is permanent, she is expected to serve in the job for only a brief period to assist with a couple of major initiatives the agency needs to accomplish in the next year. Comeaux is expected to retire before the 2013 legislative session begins, he said.

Comeaux could not be reached for comment for this story.

She is replacing Romaine Gilliland, who has announced he will retire early next year.

Comeaux has her supporters.

Lisa Ruiz-Lee, interim director of the Clark County Department of Family Services, describes Comeaux as an “extraordinary public servant” in the six years they have worked together. Comeaux has worked collaboratively with Clark and Washoe counties and other jurisdictions to improve the delivery of child welfare services, she said.

“And so I think that is one of Diane’s strengths, is that she really focuses on building solid, collaborative relationships and helping people to move forward in a consensus based, togetherness kind of a feel, and I think she does a great job at that,” Ruiz-Lee said.

Comeaux has tremendous expertise around public welfare, public service and managing government, she said. She will carry these same strengths into the Welfare Division arena, Ruiz-Lee said.

Assemblywoman April Mastroluca, D-Henderson, said she has found Comeaux to be a professional in their work together on child welfare issues. While deferring to Willden on the appointment, she said: “I have faith in Mike and his ability and if he has chosen Diane as the best person for the job then I don’t see a reason to question that if he has the backing that he needs from HR (Human Resources) to be able to do that.”

Willden said he picked Comeaux because of two major challenges facing the division in the coming year. One is the need for a new information technology project because of the new federal health care law, he said. A request for proposals for the project is going out shortly.

“Diane’s experience has been excellent over the years with regard to IT systems,” Willden said.

The other challenge is the fiscal administration of the welfare agency, he said.

“And Diane has a tremendous skill set there,” Willden said.

“So when I looked around as to what we might want to do, open that up and recruit again or look within at the talent we have, it was pretty clear to me that at least for the next year, it would very critical to have someone that knows what’s going on in IT and fiscal within the department issues,” he said. “So Diane was head and shoulders above.”

Amber Howell, currently deputy administrator at the Division of Child and Family Services, is being appointed as acting administrator of the agency until a search for a permanent replacement is completed, Willden said.

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Audio clips:

HHS Director Mike Willden says Comeaux does not have a degree but has years of experience as a state executive:

12-12-11Willden1 :17 responsible as DWSS.”

Willden says a college degree has value but has to be balanced with training and experience:

121211Willden2 :10 types of things.”

Willden says Comeaux fits the bill for the challenges facing the welfare division:

121211Willden3 :25 and shoulders above.”

Assemblywoman April Mastroluca says she has faith in Willden to make the appointment to the position:

121311Mastroluca :15 to do that.”

Lisa Ruiz-Lee, interim director of the Clark County Department of Family Services, says Comeaux builds solid, collaborative relationships:

121311Ruiz-Lee :16 job at that.”

 

 

 

Federal Cut To Energy Assistance Program Means Thousands Of Nevadans Ineligible For Help

By Sean Whaley | 4:29 pm July 12th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Thousands of Nevada residents who rely on financial assistance to pay their power bills likely won’t get help this year because of federal funding cuts, a state agency reported today.

Miki Allard, staff specialist with the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, said federal funding for Nevada’s Energy Assistance Program will amount to only $4 million this year, down from $15.8 million in the fiscal year that just ended June 30.

While the funding provided by Nevada utility customers through the universal energy charge on their bills will remain relatively steady at $8.7 million, the anticipated decline in federal assistance has forced the agency to reduce both eligibility levels and the amount of assistance that can be provided, she said.

The income threshold for eligibility this year will be 110 percent of poverty levels, compared to 150 percent last year, Allard said. Thousands of Nevadans will lose eligibility because of this change, she said.

The amount of support will also be reduced to about $500 this year compared to $860 in the year that just ended, Allard said.

The reductions come as demand has increased, from 21,900 households being helped in fiscal year 2009, to 27,500 in fiscal year 2010 and 32,600 households last fiscal year.

“These cuts in federal funding will have a significant effect on Nevada families struggling with the highest unemployment rate in the nation,” said Romaine Gilliland, administrator for the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services. “For many families the assistance we are able to provide will not be enough to keep the lights on.”

Romaine Gilliland, administrator for the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, says the funding reductions will hurt struggling Nevada families.

Some who will feel the effect of the funding reductions are 1,700 pending applications from last year. The households will get no support in the just ended fiscal year because of a lack of funds. The applications will be processed for the current year, but the reduced eligibility guidelines will apply.

In Nevada, the assistance can help both for winter heating and summer cooling.

“It’s different for each end of the state,” Allard said. “We have a big influx of applications in the summer months in the south, and then an influx of applications in the north in the winter months.”

President Obama proposed a $2.5 billion cut to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in his 2012 federal fiscal year budget released in February. The program was funded at $5.1 billion in the 2011 fiscal year, and it is the program that assists Nevada and other states in offering the energy assistance.

The American Public Gas Association (APGA) sent a letter to President Obama in February opposing the reduction, but Executive Vice President Dave Schryver said today that funding for the program remains uncertain given the focus in Washington, DC, on addressing the federal deficit.

Dave Schryver, executive vice president, American Public Gas Association, says there is still a great need for the program.

“We’ve argued to the administration as well as to congress that even as they look at reducing federal funding, we think funding for LIHEAP is as critical as it’s ever been because of the economy,” he said. “More people are out of work, more families are in need, and as a result LIHEAP is even more important in helping those people meet their energy heating needs.”

The organization has pushed for an increase in the program to $7.6 billion but Schryver said such an increase would be “extremely difficult” given the current budget discussions.

Allard said today’s announcement is to alert those who use the program that funding will be reduced this year.

“They limped along for awhile with unemployment,” she said. “Now that the unemployment benefits are expiring – I talk to people on the phone every day who are just desperate. Their safety net is gone.”

Audio clips:

Miki Allard, staff specialist with the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, says demand for assistance depends on where in Nevada people reside:

071211Allard1 :12 the winter months.”

Allard says the reduction comes at a time when many people have exhausted their safety net:

071211Allard2 :19 net is gone.”

Dave Schryver of the American Public Gas Association says there is still a critical need for the program:

071211Schryver 1 :21 energy heating needs.”