By Sheena Dooley | Iowa Watchdog
DES MOINES — A state-run program designed to help provide struggling families provide child care for their children failed to ensure millions of dollars were properly spent, according to a new federal inspector general’s report.
The Iowa Department of Human Services, which oversees the Iowa Childcare Assistance Program, mismanaged its payments to child care providers and failed to check the eligibility of children during fiscal 2011. Specifically, some claims lacked citizenship verification, Social Security numbers or income eligibility, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General’s Office.
Additionally, federal officials found, in some cases, money was paid to providers with the same address as the children receiving the benefits. The state’s automated system also paid out claims despite invalid entries regarding the type of child care provider used and the date the claim was paid, the report said.
The federal government funds a large portion of the program, which prompted the routine review.
Roger Munns, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Human Services, said the agency had no further comment than those it included in its response to federal officials. In the response, officials acknowledged the problems and said they would review the 129 claims flagged by auditors, while strengthening future oversight.
The agency, for example, two years ago moved away from having counties handle case documentation and centralized its operations.
The move was meant “to improve consistency and standardization of work processes,” said Charles Palmer, director of the Iowa Department of Human Services.
The child care assistance program provides child care to low-income families, those who are searching for employment and parents who are not working and enrolled in academic or vocational training programs. It is also available to children whose parents have health problems and are unable to provide care.
State workers handled nearly 550,000 claims totaling $87.3 million in fiscal 2011, according to the federal report. The largest share of the money, which comes from federal and state sources, went to licensed day care centers and registered homes.
Federal officials reviewed 200 claims during fiscal 2011 and found inadequate documentation to support their payments in nearly 65 percent of those cases. The flagged claims total $15.8 million, the report said.
Auditors also examined the state’s computer system that tracked claims and discovered another $5.9 million in questionable expenses. They found 4,669 claims had invalid entries for the type of service provider, while another 31,045 had incorrect pay dates, according to the report.
Palmer contested the finding related to the computer system coding problems, saying the claims were accurately inputted into the system. Federal auditors rechecked the issues and maintained their findings.
“Payments were made accurately,” Palmer said in his written response. “We know that the process now works well and payments are made as they should be; it is the report that does not reflect this.”
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