May 23, 2012

Auditors find continuing problems at county social service agencies

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By Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com

DHR facebook logoCounty social service agencies don’t do a good job of tracking foster children, leave federal funding on the table, have missing files on welfare checks and grant food stamps to too many ineligible people, a new state audit found.

These problems and a host of others on documentation and control were found in some of the largest social service agencies in the state, and scores of the issues were repeat errors that had been found in previous audits.

“In view of repeat findings … more oversight by [Department of Human Resources] management may be necessary,” said chief Legislative Auditor Bruce Myers in a letter to the legislature’s Joint Audit Committee

The local social service agencies in the 23 counties and Baltimore City, administer state and federal aid programs, and the local directors report to the Human Resources secretary.

Errors in Baltimore, Prince George’s

The most errors (40 apiece) were found in Baltimore and Prince George’s County. The audit covered the period from April 2008 through June 2011, and was largely conducted by the department’s Office of Inspector General. After reviewing the procedures, legislative auditors relied on the IG findings.

Human Resources Secretary Theodore Dallas said he made “improving the department’s local operations a top priority” since he took over the agency in May 2011.

“While there is still some work to do, I am happy to report that many of the conditions noted in the audit have already been corrected and we are on our way to resolving all the findings in the audit,” Dallas said.

In particular, Dallas told Myers in a letter, “the department is making progress in its internal operations in several critical areas such as food stamp overpayments.”

“We have brought down food stamp error rate from 6.16 percent in May 2011 to 3.1 percent in December 2011,” he said.

Maryland’s food stamp error rate in fiscal 2010 was the highest in the nation, according to a chart from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Maryland provides almost $1 billion in food assistance, all of it coming from the federal government.

Case files missing

Among the findings, the legislative auditors found foster care case files could not be located to verify eligibility.

“There was a lack of assurance that all children in foster care were receiving vital services necessary for their emotional, physical and educational well-being,” the report said. Eligibility for federal aid was not determined in a timely fashion, possibly resulting “in the failure to maximize federal funding.”

Collections for overpayments for foster care were also inadequate.

The department reported on steps it had taken to track down case files, and 92 percent of foster children now get documented case worker visits each month, above the federal standard.

The department has also streamlined the process for documenting eligibility for federal funding.

Auditors also found inadequate controls over blank checks and prepaid gift cards given to needy citizens to pay for meals and incidentals. There was also lax supervision of government credit cards, failure to get written contracts on major purchases and no assurance that all cash receipts were deposited.

The department said it had changed procedures to fix the identified problems in all those areas.

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  • abby_adams

    This article blows holes in a previously listed article on the massive increase of Maryland residents receiving assistance. While we cannot turn our backs on those truly in need, ensuring that taxpayers get the most “bang for the buck” shouldn’t be overlooked. After all it is OUR TAX DOLLARS that are being misused.  Wonder which article will generate the most attention? I’m sure it will depend on your political point of view. It’s much easier to justify the explosion of $ being spent on social services rather than the lack of oversight and accountability in handing out those $$.  

    • Dale McNamee

       Hi Abby !

        I agree with your sentiments and both stories are important to me.

      The fact that Marylanders who are working have to rely on government assistance is shameful ! The economic policies practiced by the Obama administration have brought this about ! I am not employed and am appealing my SSDI ruling and I cannot get any assistance since my wife makes too much money ! And we’re just as affected as those featured in the article. Also, at 58 years of age and with heart failure, there are no jobs for me. ( The same is true even if I were in good health ).

       I wasn’t surprised by the article on the problems for the county social services… Like you, I agree that the taxpayers should get more “bang for the buck”… The government “culture” works against efficiency and accountability ( especially to the taxpayers ), thus the waste of tax money…

      We all deserve better, taxpayers and the children who are in “the system” !

      • Gome17

        Hi Dale

        The problem with the Government is they claim people need to practice helping themselves. So the Government does the reverse they claim if someone lives in your home and makes a lot of money then the person who makes more should help you. How about no they should just stick to what they preach. You’re the person that needs help because your wife can’t afford to take care of you. So what you do is apply for disability and you’re seeking help.

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  • Gome17

    How about where some Social case workers are threatening kids

  • Deb-lundahl

    Part of the problem with the food stamp (by the way, the correct name for the program is the “food supplement program” or FSP) is the antiquated computer system and the extremely high caseloads. When you are under court supervision to process 96 percent of the applications within 30 days and the computer system is taken done for a full day every month for maintenance, you have a recipe for disaster. Until the state invests in technology and the resources needed to perform legally mandated functions, you will always receive subpar results. We don’t need more oversight, we need better tools.

  • Cwals99

    It is strange that the report didn’t mention that in some cases social workers have as many as 500 clients when 80 is the recommended number.  That is probably more important than those listed above as this problem could result in loss of life.  It also brings to question how the federal aid that comes to these clients is spent given the extreme understaffing.