Missouri audit questions use of federal funds for welfare, other programs

Friday, March 30, 2012 | 4:03 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich released a report Friday questioning some of the ways federal funds have been used in state programs.

The auditor's office compiles a report each year tracking the state's use of federal money. Missouri used $14.2 billion in federal funds during the 2011 budget, which included about $1.8 billion of stimulus money — both totals are down from what the state used in 2010.

Among the costs to be questioned were at least $670,000 for utility assistance, expenses for a welfare program and some unemployment costs.

Funds from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program flow through state government to community action agencies that provide heating and cooling assistance to Missourians. The audit reported that the Human Development Corporation of Metropolitan St. Louis did not remit at least $669,704 to an energy supplier as required. Instead, the Missouri Department of Social Services made the payments using state funds from September 2011 to December 2011.

The Department of Social Services said it learned about financial problems at the Human Development Corporation of Metropolitan St. Louis early last year and did not allow it to participate in the utility assistance program during the current fiscal year. According to the audit, the organization filed for corporate dissolution in December, and a notice could be seen Friday on the organization's website stating it had closed.

State officials said they have seized financial records and documents related to the federal grants. The Department of Social Services said it notified federal authorities and referred the issue to the Missouri attorney general's office.

Auditors also questioned $44.3 million charged by the Department of Social Services to the federal government program Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Auditors said the state agency claimed costs for foster care, adoption assistance and three scholarship programs that were not allowed. The report also said other education expenses were wrongly counted toward the state's minimum amount of spending necessary to continue receiving federal payments.

The Department of Social Services said in a written response it disagreed with the audit's findings.

Last year, Schweich also questioned $29.6 million in foster care, adoption and guardianship costs charged to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. In response, the Department of Social Services said it disagreed with the findings but did not elaborate.

This year's audit questioned some unemployment payments as well, citing computer programming errors that led to $189,423 in over payments. It recommended the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations examine all computer programming changes to check for additional problems and be sure future programming changes are properly tested.

The state agency said it agreed with the finding.

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