By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — Florida nonprofits have taken in more than 3,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America who illegally crossed the southern border, but those organizations are being paid handsomely by taxpayers for their charity.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ Tracking Accountability in Government Grants System, or TAGGS, reports Florida nonprofits have received $21 million thus far in 2014 to care for the children who came with a wave of illegals earlier this year.
His House Children’s Home in Miami, a nonprofit providing residential care for abused, abandoned and neglected children, received the lion’s share of that cash, about $10 million, nearly double what they got last year.
Catholics Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami received more than $4.3 million to care for 300 border children. Millions more went to The Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services Inc. in Pinellas County, Neighbor to Family in Volusia County, Sandy Pines Hospital in Palm Beach County and The Children`s Home Inc. in Hillsborough. For many of those groups, it was the first time they received federal grant money.
The Department of Health and Human Services is required by law to care for unaccompanied immigrant children when there is no parent or legal guardian in the United States.
The federal grants are meant to cover costs for temporary housing, medical care and support services.
But details of exactly how the money is being spent haven’t been easy to come by. So Florida Watchdog contacted all of the charities to find out first hand.
Several, including Catholic Charities, referred questions to the Department of Justice saying “As determined by ORR’s (Office of Refugee and Resettlement) policy, all media requests for any information regarding unaccompanied minors/programs et al in these facilities must be cleared by DOJ,” spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said in an email.
Others didn’t bother to respond.
Asked The Children’s Home Inc. spends its grant money, Kenneth Wolfe, communications director at for Children and Families U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said:
“The Children’s Home is a grantee under our Unaccompanied Alien Children program. For Tampa, it has been funded for two shelters — one with up to 11 children and another with up to 16.”
Most of the money comes from the “Unaccompanied Alien Children Program,” a program managed by the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families and the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
The Office of Management and Budget, said this fiscal year’s budget is $1.4 billion, and next year’s is $2.28 billion.
The projected increase is calculated by taking into account the 51,000 unaccompanied minors already in the U.S., plus 40,000 more who are expected to arrive by the end of the year. Most of the children are coming from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
In 2002, HHS took over the care and custody of unaccompanied children from the Immigration and Naturalization Service in an effort to move to a child welfare-based model and away from adult detention.
But a 2008 report issued by the inspector general at HHS showed the program wasn’t doing much to oversee compliance at the child-care facilities.
“Federal field specialist and field coordinator visits to facilities do not include routine meetings with children. Additionally, (the Division of Unaccompanied Children’s Services) does not have a method to track children after they are released to sponsors and therefore is unable to determine whether the processes facilities use to screen sponsors are effective and whether sponsors continue to provide for children’s physical, mental, and financial well-being,” says the report.
HHS’s inspector general said the 2008 audit has not been updated.
Other audit reports checked by Florida Watchdog did not say whether the agency increased accountability on the program.
So far, one case of misuse was reported in Florida. Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services in Pasco County was forced to repay $167,762 for its misuse of federal funds, according to the Tampa Tribune.
But despite the lack of formal oversight procedures, some lawmakers are starting to question the numbers.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, demanded accountability after a Texas television station reported that a nonprofit received $50 million to turn a luxury hotel into a center for unaccompanied minors at a cost to taxpayers of more $166,000 per bed, or $13,889 per month per child.