State’s negligence impacts local agencies

State’s negligence impacts local agencies
Was it a question of incompetence on the state level in distributing federal reimbursement moneys? That’s the question that certain local leaders of nonprofit organizations are asking. Some people believe that’s exactly what happened, but others wonder what exactly is going on as it appears mismanagement on the state level will impact funding local services all across the state. According to a story published last week in the Tennessean, the state has been missing out on millions of federal reimbursement dollars that could have helped pay for mental retardation services. A recent audit shows the state’s failure to file necessary paperwork, or even accurately filing which has cost Tennessee taxpayers millions in available federal funds. The audit found that the state’s Division of Mental Retardation Services were in grave need of reform and cited “mismanagement of funds and lax controls over spending and filing systems.” For a period of eight years, the state has failed to claim nearly $67 million dollars and during one fiscal year of the overall audit, the division exceeded its $746 million dollar budget by nearly $30 million. “Rural areas are absolutely being killed because there is no local money to replace these lost funds,” Rep. Mark Maddox said. Cathy Cates, Executive Director of Community Development Services, said this would ultimately end up hurting clients of the CDS organization. “We have been good stewards of their (the state’s) money and local money, but they are taking our money to get out of the red,” she said. “It’s affecting our bottom line.” Recently, Cates spoke to the Weakley County Press regarding the fact that the local agency that serves Weakley, Obion, Carroll, Henry and Lake counties has not had an increase in funding in four years. With rising costs of gas and services, the agency has taken a hit financially. Cates said that the organization currently serves roughly 150 clients. “Many of our clients do not have families, and those with families are asking ‘What’s going to happen to us?’,” Cates added. “What’s going to happen to them? We’ve tightened all we can.” Spokesman Tony Troiano, a spokesman for DMRS which is under the department of finance and administration said in an interview the department knew it was losing money but it had to “fix the system before we could be in a position to get federal dollars” in an interview with the Tennessean. Auditors said the biggest failure to come out of the study was not collecting million in federal reimbursements for waiver services that help mentally retarded Tennessean. The state has 12 months to file a claim. Steve Norris, the deputy commissioner at the department of finance and administration released a press release citing that the audit “the $67 million was a receivable and ultimately a bad debt originating from denied claims. From 1997 to 2003 the issue essentially lay dormant. After joining the Division in October 2003, I along with members of my staff began a process of enhancing our ability to address this issue.” He went on to write that policies had been put in place to combat the issue with the creation of a Denied Claims unit. Cates agreed that he had done well in attempting to collect the debt, however, it is still impacting local services and much of the debt still exists. The audit’s results have advocates such as Cates concerned regarding the long-term treatment for their clients. A press release from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research’s president Drew Johnson stated, “The Division of Mental Retardation Services has two roles: to provide support to Tennessean with mental disabilities and to provide taxpayers a good value for that service,” he said. “According to this audit, the division fails miserably at both tasks.” Cates has been diligent in keeping the citizens of CDS’s coverage area appraised of the situation. CDS, and local radio stations owned by Thunderbolt Broadcasting are helping to organize an effort to provide assistance to CDS. by asking area churches, businesses and individuals to drop items off at the radio station, located at 1410 Lindell St. There are drop boxes at business locations around Martin, including E.W. James, Rural King, Sav-A-Lot and the Martin Senior Center. Cates said the group homes also need gas cards, gift cards, copy paper and monetary donations to buy specific needs such as cleaning supplies. “There are 6,900 people on the waiting list for services right now in the state of Tennessee alone,” she said. “People should know that services have been cut. It’s not us cutting them, it’s the state cutting them.”

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