Missouri agency will not recover $1.5 mln in overpayments

Written by Muleskinner Staff


(JEFFERSON CITY, Mo., AP) — A Missouri agency has no plans to recover what a state audit described as more than $1.5 million in overpayments for an early childhood development program, according to a follow-up review released Thursday.
A state fund for support services for young children received the lowest possible rating in a February audit. Of four changes recommended in that report, none have been fully implemented, a follow-up review noted.
“Early childhood development programming is an incredibly important component to providing Missouri children with strong foundations that will allow them to excel throughout their lives,” Auditor Nicole Galloway said in a statement. “These programs must operate efficiently and use public resources wisely in order to offer the best opportunities possible to children and families across the state.”
The initial audit, released under former Auditor Tom Schweich before he killed himself later that month, raised issues after the Department of Social Services gave additional funding to nonprofits that provide services under the state’s Early Head Start program in fiscal year 2014. But the agency, the audit said, for most of the year did not require those nonprofits to increase the number of children and expectant mothers helped.
The department, a spokeswoman said, disagrees with the audit findings. In a letter to the auditor’s office, Social Services Deputy Director Jennifer Tidball called it “unrealistic” for the contractors to immediately more than double the number of children served when the agency received additional state funding in the 2014 fiscal year, in turn paying the contractors more. The agency gave those groups seven months to increase their workloads.
The Early Head Start programs “are not turn key operations: teachers, aides and support staff must be hired and trained; curriculum has to be established; and, facilities need to be in place,” Tidball wrote.
Social Services is not seeking to recover the more than $1.5 million the earlier audit said was an overpayment. Department officials said that money was needed for contracted groups to expand operations and pay for other necessary expenses, according to the follow-up report conducted under Galloway, who was appointed to replace Schweich.
As of June 2015, the department hasn’t increased payments without asking for services to also be ramped up, the report shows. It also now reimburses those nonprofits for monthly costs incurred and reviews expenses to ensure compliance with new contracts.
Another issue raised in the audit was wide variation in costs for some programs administered through Social Services. For example, home visits ranged from $1,400 to $5,200 annually per child or family. Schweich had recommended the department put price controls in place for competitive and non-competitive contracts.
Tidball wrote that the different costs are expected because of the competitive bidding process and different models of providing service. Social Services now pays contractors based on actual costs rather than reimbursing based on the number of children or expectant mothers served.
The audit also raised concerns that both Social Services and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reimbursed two public school districts for the same home visits services. While Social Services’ new contracts now prohibit billing for duplicative services, the report notes no new oversight is in place to ensure that’s not happening.
Two additional reviews through Social Services have since found no billing issues in fiscal year 2015, spokeswoman Rebecca Woelfel said in a statement.
The follow-up report also shows Social Services and several other agencies involved with implementing Head Start are working on a comprehensive plan to provide services, a move aimed at addressing advice to consolidate for efficiency.
Follow Summer Ballentine at https://www.twitter.com/esballentine.