After being criticized, DHHS responds - News, Weather and Sports for Lincoln, NE;

After being criticized, DHHS responds

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Posted By: Camila Orti

The Dept. of Health & Human Services is firing back after being criticized for not using nearly $6 million dollars to help low-income families.

State Auditor Mike Foley is suggesting a performance audit for the program that's under fire, and DHHS leaders welcome the review.

Foley says he's fed up with the department's administrative and accounting practices.

"They're embarrassed about it and now we're seeing an attempt to try to cover over some of these problems," Foley said.

The state auditor released some findings from his most recent audit earlier this week, and the department responded to the criticisms Thursday.

Foley's complaint is that the department's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) missed out on using millions of federal dollars to help struggling families pay their energy bills.

"He has alleged that the $5.8 million was not distributed because of mismanagement, which frankly is not true," CEO of the department Kerry Winterer said.

Winterer says about $29 million in federal money was used in LIHEAP this year so that eligible families can afford their bills. Part of that money is also allocated to help families winterize their homes for better energy efficiency. He says just because some leftover funds weren't used, doesn't mean the program is doing anything wrong.

"The federal government distributes lots of money into this program, that doesn't mean we have enough qualified individuals in the state of Nebraska to use those funds, which was the case here," Winterer said.

Foley's push for a performance audit comes from a number of problems he says he's seen.

"It's time, I think, for the legislature to take a good hard look at that program and say, is there something broken here that needs to be fixed," Foley said.

"Our response to that is fine, I would welcome that," Winterer said.

Winterer added it's taxpayer dollars that are saved when the program doesn't spend its leftovers, Foley says it's money that's just sent back to Washington.

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