Delawareans uneligible for temporary assistance still cashing in

 First (File)

First (File)

Those falling beyond on child support payments or not failing to meet paternity requirements are receiving financial help, despite being unqualifed.

 

Delawareans who don’t qualify for temporary assistance from the State because they’re behind on child support payments are nevertheless still receiving financial help, according to an audit report.

State Auditor R. Thomas Wagner, Jr. said there’s serious flaws within the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services Division of Social Services and Division of Child Support Services when it comes to meeting federal requirements for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.

“The material weakness found in the way DSS and DCSS comply with the grant requirements could have been avoided if the appropriate internal controls had been in place,” he said.

The TANF program aims to help needy families achieve self-sufficiency. The federal government provides block grants to each state to design and operate programs that work to help families in need. The funding program uses a match system between federal dollars and Delaware taxpayer dollars.

In Delaware, individuals can receive temporary cash assistance while in between jobs.

However, the federal government requires states to suspend funding to those who aren’t paying up on child support or aren’t cooperating with the State in determining paternity.

The Office of the Auditor of Accounts, which oversees an annual independent audit of the State’s finances, found 25 percent of TANF cases did not comply with federal grant monitoring requirements during the fiscal year ending June 30th, 2016.

DSS and DCSS often failed to identify and sanction TANF program beneficiaries who did not cooperate with the State in determining paternity, or in modifying or enforcing a child support order, according to the report.

The audit doesn’t look at dollar amounts, but Wagner said the incorrect payments would cost a “substantial amount of money.”

This is not the first time Delaware has failed to meet requirements—Wagner said the same finding was produced in last year’s report. A working group also was established to address the issue, but he said he doesn’t believe they’ve offered any recommendations to date.

Wagner said next year, the federal government could decide to take away the amount of funds the State did not properly account for.

“I think in today’s environment where federal government is looking to make reductions, as the State’s facing tough budgetary times, while it’s not probable that happens it’s certainly an increased likelihood than what would have happened last year,” he said.

Wagner said the failure to comply was the result of lax internal controls, specifically a lack of communication between DSS and DCSS, leading to overpayments to program recipients. DCSS is responsible for identifying non-compliant individuals and reporting the information to DSS, while DSS is in authority to issuing sanctions.

Wagner said his main advice to the departments is “follow the law.” But he said he believes the internal communications system should be improved.

“I think what needs to be done is to say, ‘You’re eligible, and you’re eligible for programs A, B, not C, not D, but F and Q also. And to have the ability to make determinations individually based on what people are eligible for and address it all in one fell swoop,” Wagner said.

“A lot of the entitlement programs don’t necessarily speak to each other and can create confusion for those in need. And from a management perspective—you cannot easily access how much the State of Delaware is paying on all these accounts because it’s buried in all these different agencies that you can’t really pull up the numbers, ‘This is what we’re spending on these programs,’ because the systems don’t communicate with each other.”

Wagner said DSS has reviewed these cases and is working with Audit and Recovery Management Services to recoup over payments. The sanctions required under TANF also were applied to any cases identified by the auditors that remain open, he said.

Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Kara Odom Walker said the department is working with the audit firm to review the department’s implemented changes to improve its TANF program.

“We are a Department that embraces continuous improvement, and takes seriously our commitment to protect vulnerable populations, and also be good stewards of taxpayer money,” she said in a statement.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.