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For 12th consecutive year, same audit issue for state department

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(The Center Square) – A recently released audit found numerous issues with the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services’ stewardship of the Temporary Aid to Needy Families program, including multiple repeat violations of federal regulations.

The report issued by Legislative Auditor Mike Waguespack said the agency didn’t verify work for the Temporary Aid to Needy Families. Auditors surveyed 60 out of 28,212 work activity records in the job-tracking system and found 7% of them either didn’t square with support documentation or proof of work activities wasn’t properly maintained as required by federal regulations.

The report says the department has had the issue in 12 consecutive annual audits.

Auditors also noted that the agency didn’t have a formalized process to ensure that $16 million of the temporary grant funds for the Social Services Block Grant program were used for children’s programs or their families with income less than 200% of the poverty level.

Auditors also found that subawards weren’t properly documented as required by federal law for foster care and Temporary Aid to Needy Families programs.

These subawards are considerable, with $11.6 million provided to 10 different recipients for foster care programs (20% of the program’s expenditures in 2023). For the Temporary Aid to Needy Families program, $84.3 million was distributed to 50 different entities, 10 of which were state agencies. This was 42% of the program’s expenditures. The grants in both programs exceed $30,000 each.

Payroll issues for Department of Children and Family Services employees were also noted. Two were fired for “double-dipping” by receiving wages for hours worked at the agency and with another employer simultaneously. The audit found issues with the agency’s payroll policies and procedures, especially when it came to approving leave time.

The report also found that 8,133 (5%) of 156,777 leave requests were automatically approved by the agency’s payroll system, a step done if the employee’s supervisor doesn’t act on the request.

In a response letter, former department secretary Terri Ricks says the agency concurs with the first finding and will “ensure proper documentation through training and case reviews.”

Ricks also said the agency had taken over case management of work-eligible cash assistance recipients in July 2020. The agency head also said the agency had taken over management of the Strategies to Empower People program, which provides job training and cash assistance to work-eligible families that receive cash assistance through the Family Independence Temporary Assistance Program.

Ricks said, “Despite the amount of staff turnover due largely to promotional opportunities and the standard timeframe of two to three years of professional development required to learn the nuances of the program, the STEP staff have made great strides in reducing the extent of the deficiencies.”