The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services continues to waste money and overspend, according to a new report by Nebraska State Auditor Mike Foley. The HHS overspent nearly $2 million from 1996-2006 by failing “simply to ask for federal reimbursement funds owed to the state in a timely manner,” Foley said.
Most of the money was for adoption assistance.
The HHS has a recent history of lax financial practices.
This issue came to light when Foley’s audit team found that HHS paid program expenses but then failed to seek $656,489 in federal reimbursement during a five-year grace period that began in 2006, Foley said.
Foley said DHHS called it a “clerical error.” Realizing that Nebraska taxpayers had been short-changed, auditors dug deeper and discovered the problem had been occurring for a decade.
The audit shows Nebraska taxpayers picked up the tab for more than $1.8 million.
Federal law allows a state agency five years to request federal reimbursement for certain expenditures, such as adoption assistance and child support enforcement. By failing to request federal reimbursement, DHHS missed the opportunity and consequently the program costs were pushed onto Nebraska taxpayers, Foley said.
The breakdown of the funds lost by DHHS:
Grant Year - Grant Program - Amount lost
1996 - Child Support Enforcement - $46,230
1998 - Adoption Assistance - 76,096
1999 - Adoption Assistance - 417,194
2001 - Child Support Enforcement - 27,140
2002 - Foster Care Title IV-E - 210,713
2003 - Foster Care Title IV-E - 243,919
2004 - Adoption Assistance - 123,419
2006 - Adoption Assistance - 656,489
2006 - State Survey and Certification of Health Care Providers - 20,741
Total Federal Funds Lost - $1,821,941
Aside from partially blaming an alleged "clerical error," Foley said nobody at HHS could explain the agency's failure to initiate the process of claiming the available funds in time.
Auditors previously found other problems with finances at the HHS department, showing millions of dollars that were mispent.
In April 2011, Foley reported that HHS reimbursed the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging for housing, meals and counseling for supposed clients who were dead.
In January 2012, Gov. Dave Heineman stopped a two-year-old statewide child welfare reform effort after millions of dollars were given to private “lead agencies” without binding contractual requirements.
In July, Foley’s auditors revealed that HHS paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fradulent reimbursement claims to two child care centers in Omaha despite knowing that both centers had a history of overbilling the HHS.