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Ideas for Increased Accountability after the Mississippi Department of Human Services Audit

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On May 4, State Auditor Shad White announced in a press release that the Office of the State Auditor’s  annual single audit of how Mississippi state agencies spend federal money revealed that “millions of dollars of grants from the Mississippi Department of Human Services (DHS) were misspent, converted to personal use, spent on family members and friends of staffers and grantees, or wasted.”

The audit also identified concerns regarding how two sub-grantee non-profits, Mississippi Community Education Center (MCEC) and the Family Resource Center of North Mississippi (FRC), managed funds. You can read the full report here.

This news is especially unsettling for families whose children receive services through any of the Mississippi state agencies and the non-profit programs they fund. Families want to know that the services and supports for our children and us are delivered as promised.

These are some steps families can take to help ensure services and supports from state agencies and non-profits (including Families as Allies)  are delivered in an accountable and helpful manner.
  • Learn How State Agencies and Non-Profits Spend Funds: In addition to the State Auditor’s website, you can learn more about state agency budgets through the Legislative Budget Office. Any non-profit should be able to explain to you how the services they are offering to your child or family are being funded and how the non-profit said the funding would be used.  Almost all non-profits are required to file an annual Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that describes how it spent its money and how much executives were paid. Form 990s should be given to you if you ask the non-profit. You can also view non-profits’ annual revenue on the Charity section of the Secretary of State’s website.
  • Use Public Processes to Get More Information: Almost all non-profits and some state agencies have board meetings. These meetings, as well as their agendas and minutes, should be open to the public. Ideally, meetings should include a public comment period, although state agencies are not required to do this in Mississippi. State agencies should also be able to tell you on the phone or on their websites how to request public information from them. Some information about state contracts is available on Transparency Mississippi.
  • Consider Formal Grievance Procedures if You Have a Concern: If you have a concern about services not being delivered as promised and you have not been able to informally resolve the concern, all state agencies and most non-profits should have a formal way for you to file a grievance. You can find out about this process by asking the organization or looking on its website. You can also ask how to file a complaint with an outside entity that monitors the agency or non-profit.
  • Get to Know Your State Legislators: Remember that your state legislator is representing you so they should be willing to listen to you. State legislators are responsible for distributing our tax dollars in a manner that benefits the citizens. You can give them valuable feedback about how money can be responsibly used to help our children and also let them know if you see funds being used in a way that concerns you. (One long-term issue that would be helpful for legislators to look at is how state agencies could be set up so that we as citizens understand who the agencies answer to and how they coordinate with each other.) You can check here if you are not sure who your state legislators are.

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