By: Cole Miller
The state auditor isn't happy, saying federal money was spent improperly. It means more problems for the Department of Health and Human services.
State Auditor Mike Foley and Nebraska Health and Human Services CEO Kerry Winterer are both looking for answers. It centers around the Nebraska Low Income Energy Assistance Program.
"The federal government sent the money to Nebraska for one reason, to pay energy bills," Foley said Monday.
For the year of 2011, Nebraska got more than $40 million for the program. It's then given to families that qualify to help offset energy costs.
"So, you can't just take it to Wal-Mart and go shopping on the theory that, 'I paid my energy bills and this is just a reimbursement to me.' No. These dollars are to be used for your energy bills."
Foley says his audit determined that some of the 19,000 payments had been cashed at grocery stores and even a casino.
In all, he says more than $7 million was "questionably" spent and some of those payments went to people known by the agency to be dead.
"In this particular case, relative to these supplemental payments, we didn't comply with our state plan and we didn't comply with our regulations," Winterer said.
Winterer also blames timing, saying that if the money wasn't used up, it would disappear.
But he insists taxpayers won't bear the burden.
"In terms of the state of Nebraska having to come up and make up some difference there, there's no reason to believe that any of that is going to happen."
Foley says he expects the next audit to add up.
"We're not going to agree on everything," Foley said.
"We're not going to agree on necessary the solution. But, we're on the same team and we want the same result for the people of Nebraska."
Foley's team also found nearly 1,300 payments that were never cashed and transferred in to the state's general funds. Foley says that may raise some legal concerns.
A full version of the State Auditor's report can be seen at www.auditors.nebraska.gov