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Nebraska fails to get $1.8M in fed cash

By   /   February 19, 2013  /   5 Comments

TAX DOLLARS: State Auditor Mike Foley says errors by the state Department of Health and Human Services cost Nebraska taxpayers $1.8 million.

 

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

Updated 2:10 p.m.
LINCOLN – Nebraska’s state auditor accused state health officials of failing to promptly ask for federal reimbursement dollars, costing Nebraska taxpayers $1.8 million.

State Auditor Mike Foley said the “glaring errors” were discovered when his audit team examined an adoption assistance program managed by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, which is headed up by Kerry Winterer. Auditors discovered the department wrote off $1.8 million in grants from 1996 to 2006 that could have been collected from the feds, according to the audit report released Tuesday. The bulk of the money was for adoption assistance.

“For five whole years, the federal money was literally there for the asking,” Foley said in a press release. “All the state needed to do was to file a timely request for reimbursement. As a result, the citizens of Nebraska paid the price for those glaring errors, this time to the tune of roughly $2 million.”

DHHS’s response was that the items go back several years and the department had recorded them as receivables for a number of years with the intent to research if the money was “truly due” to the state. The department said it implemented policies this year to ensure federal reimbursements are sought in a timely manner, and in the process “came to the understanding” that amounts outstanding for more than five years were no longer collectible so those were written off.

While DHHS attributed some of the omissions to clerical errors, Foley said the auditors dug deeper and found the problem to be “a far more serious one that has been occurring for years.” Foley said nobody at DHHS could explain why they failed to initiate the process of claiming reimbursement.

The state auditor also accused DHHS of intentionally delaying auditors’ access to information for almost five months, which the report called “unreasonable under any circumstances.” Auditors said it took 134 days to gain access to the DHHS document storage computer system.

The audit also said DHHS was more than two months late in submitting its accounts receivable and payables, delaying auditors by up to 46 days.

DHHS responded by saying the state auditor’s request for access to “every type of transaction” in its computer system – including employee performance evaluations, background checks and charitable donations – is not consistent with government accounting standards. The department said it didn’t stop auditors from completing their work on the annual financial report  on time.

Russ Reno, spokesman for DHHS, said his department first reported the unclaimed federal money as part of the 2012 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report and at the time put a process in place to reduce the likelihood this would happen again. He said $116 million in federal money was awarded for those programs in the eight-year period in question, and $114.2 million were claimed. He said some dollars that weren’t claimed may not have been allowed by the feds.

“DHHS in no way minimizes the possible loss of any federal dollars,” Reno said. “It is our commitment to be good stewards of taxpayers’ funds.”

Since 2009, the department has placed more emphasis on accounting and finance and now uses a more efficient, effective accounting system and created an internal audit position to review the department, according to Reno.

Contact Deena Winter at deena@nebraskawatchdog.org.

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Deena Winter has been a journalist for over 20 years, writing stories for the Northwood Gleaner, Bismarck Tribune, Associated Press, Denver Post and Lincoln Journal Star before joining Watchdog.

  • ToucheTurtle

    Once again my question is this: the State of Nebraska has lost $1.i million dollars and one has to assume that the taxpayers ended up paying the bill. Did ANYONE lose their job because they FAILED to request the money from the Federal gov’t????? Since no mention was made of that, one can only assume that as in all areas of government these days, someone got “shuffled around” in order to muddy the water, BUT NO ONE was held accountable. It makes me want to quit paying taxes altogether!!!

  • D. Mark

    With the Gov. City, State, and especially the Federal when a mistake is made, no one is held responsible!
    Show me one case that someone was held responsible for this kind of mistake? Look at your Senators and Congressmen or Women, they get caught doing something wrong and life goes on for them. Where are our Reps in the Legislature? This mess will get shuffled aside!

  • snowyday

    DHHS is a complete and total mess. Headed by handpicked cronies of the governor, the legislators look the other way as the behemoth interferes with families lives and supports the state created child welfare industrial complex. No one pays any attention at all to the millions squandered by this agency….whose employees proclaim all the while that they operate in “the best interests of children”. The Judiciary, fully complicit and along for the ride (itself unable to be fiscally responsible) also looks the other way. When will the populace demand accountability not only from this agency but also the governor the attorneys who run the unicameral, along with their buddies the “lobbyists”?

  • Watching_From_Lincoln

    Please stop paying your taxes. I promise I won’t write you while you sit in Federal Prison for ten to twenty years.

  • Watching_From_Lincoln

    The person in charge is ultimately responsible for the actions of those under them. In this case, Kerry Winterer, hand picked appointee of Gov. HeineyMan, who gutted DHHS and got a pay raise for now administering 1/3 fewer employees than he had when he started. But wait, the incompetency doesn’t stop there with him, for the person who appointed him and oversees him is ultimately responsible for Winterer’s (in)actions and (in)competency, so the ultimate responsibility for an incompetent appointee underling once again falls squarely on the shoulders of the appointer – Governor HeineyMan. Boy is he doing great lately on the quality of his appointees – first that joke Phipps, then Sheehy, now Winterer. Does anybody else see a pattern of incompetency that leads directly to the top with our (non)esteemed Governor, too?