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Jeffco Human Services ordered to repay block-grant funds

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$100,000 returned because guidelines were misunderstood

By Emile Hallez

The federal government required Jefferson County Human Services to pay back nearly $100,000 in stimulus money earlier this year, after an audit revealed 33 job-training recipients were ineligible to receive funds in 2009.

The funds were disbursed to Jeffco’s workforce development program under a grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Some county employees apparently misunderstood the grant’s guidelines and awarded paid internships to applicants whose income was up to twice as high as the maximum amount allowed.

In 2009, the workforce development program was implemented by the county’s Development and Transportation Division. In 2010, the program was taken over by Human Services, said director Lynn Johnson.

The program, part of the Community Services Block Grant, placed prospective workers with local companies, and funds from the grant were used as compensation — up to $5,000 per internship.

“We were qualifying people for the program that were much higher income than they should have been,” community development director Kat Douglas said.

County workers calculated the maximum eligibility income based on half the time the government specified, approving applicants who could have earned twice as much as guidelines permitted. According to the county’s website, applicants could have incomes of up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. In 2010 the poverty level for a family of four was $22,050.

The county identified the problem during a routine audit last year, Douglas said. The state, which acted as an intermediary in providing grant funds to the county, reported the issue to the federal government, she said.

“In the end, the feds decided that the money needed to be paid completely back to them,” she said.

Both Johnson and Douglas emphasized that human services did not administer the program during the time when grant funds were initially misallocated. However, they attributed the error to misinterpretation of the grant’s rapidly evolving guidelines and a fast-paced implementation.

“Information was coming at the same time the programs were being administered because the regulations were being written late,” Douglas said. “We weren’t aware of this error until much later.”

Funds were repaid by the workforce development program.

Human Services said procedures have since been improved, and the chance of similar errors happening when a similar program is implemented next year will be slim.

“It shouldn’t have happened,” Johnson said. “They didn’t have all the proper checks and balances to make sure it didn’t happen.”

 

Contact Emile Hallez Williams at emile@evergreenco.comor 303-933-2233, ext. 22. For updates, check www.ColumbineCourier.com.