RENO, Nev. (AP) — Nevada’s Department of Health and Human Services misappropriated or failed to adequately justify the use of millions of dollars in federal crime victim assistance grants from 2012-16, a U.S. Justice Department audit said.
The audit made public Monday by the department’s inspector general examined $45.6 million in grants awarded to Nevada over parts of four fiscal years to distribute to rape treatment centers, domestic violence shelters, centers for missing children and other community-based victim coalitions and service providers.
Among other things, the audit determined Nevada failed to ensure compliance with the grant’s special conditions, failed to track priority funding areas and submitted inaccurate reports to the federal government.
It concluded the flawed process the state used to distribute funds to individual groups based in part on past funding levels resulted in the approval of approximately $4 million in excess awards.
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It also questioned the accounting of $2.7 million in state spending related to the program, including $1.87 million in grants distributed to individual community service providers who lacked adequate documentation to justify the expenditures.
“Without sufficient documentation, we were unable to determine if the NDHHS selection process adequately distributed funds to meet the needs of crime victims,” DOJ’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz said.
The audit also found that the state agency “cannot sufficiently explain why one application was denied and another application was accepted.” It said an agency official told the auditors the department “has had significant turnover of staff and does not know how or where the prior staff documented the selection process.”
Department Director Richard Whitley said in a Feb. 28 letter to the Justice Department the agency already had accepted 21 of 22 recommendations for corrective action and was working to resolve a final discrepancy regarding allowable administrative costs.
Kelly Wooldridge, administrator of the state department’s Division of Child and Family Services, said on Tuesday the department welcomed the audit and the recommended corrective actions.
“We know we can always do better,” she said in an interview. “We have a corrective action plan we have already started aggressively working on.”
The plan includes more training and better monitoring of the service providers as well as “cleaning up our own internal policies, procedures and documentation,” she said.
Wooldridge said the department didn’t actually distribute $4 million in excess grants but made plans to do so using a formula based on past funding levels that didn’t materialize.
“We thought we’d get $4 million more than we actually got. We should have been waiting until we got the actual award. We stopped doing that in 2017 and started basing it on actual dollars received,” she said.
Nevada provided services to between 62,000 and 83,000 crime victims each year from 2013-16, according to the audit.
One of the problems uncovered in the review centers on guidelines in the federal Victim Assistance Formula Grant Program requiring states to award a minimum of 10 percent of the total grant funds to programs that serve victims in each of four categories: child abuse, domestic abuse, sexual assault and previously underserved populations.
“Prior to 2017, the state didn’t have a definition of previously underserved populations nor did it track” whether it was meeting the 10 percent guideline, the audit said.
The state hired a contractor who completed a “gap analysis” in May 2017 to identify unmet needs and awarded three grants “to provide services to victims of the human trafficking and sex industry in Nevada, which it considered to be underserved populations,” the audit said.
“Though the NDHHS’ recent gap analysis indicates it is cognizant of its need to ensure future funds are allocated appropriately, we are concerned that the NDHHS has awarded over $30 million in funds from 2012 through 2016 without a demonstrable coherent and informed strategy,” it said.