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Judge Questions Tennessee Attorney General's Plan For $40M

Posted at 10:00 PM, Sep 30, 2014
and last updated 2015-09-07 14:26:15-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A plan by the Tennessee Attorney General's Office to distribute $40 million to Tennessee charities is getting criticized from a judge and several non-profit groups.

The $40 million came from the settlement of a lawsuit involving National HealthCare Corp. (NHC) and two non-profit nursing home operators last year.

The Attorney General oversees non-profits in Tennessee, so the court told the office to come up with a plan for the money.

But at least two non-profit groups that represent senior citizens have asked the court to reject the Attorney General's proposal. The non-profit, FiftyForward, has argued the money should benefit seniors because it came from a nursing home case.

But the Attorney General's Office had other ideas.

It recommended creating a "Foundation for a Greater Tennessee" to "promote healthier, more livable communities in Tennessee."

It wants to put $35 million into the new foundation.

Advocates for seniors are not the only ones challenging the proposal.

Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle said in a court filing that she was "surprised that services to the elderly was not a prominent part of the plan," and asked whether it was "wasteful" and "redundant" to start a new statewide foundation.

Chancellor Lyle cited Governor Haslam's newly launched "Healthier Tennessee" Foundation as an example of a foundation that seems to already do what Attorney General proposed.

But the office responded in court documents that the "Foundation for a Greater Tennessee" would be different.

The Attorney General also said there is no law in Tennessee that requires settlement money from a nursing home case like this to directly benefit senior citizens.

Senior citizen groups like FiftyForward believe they were cut out of the plan.

"I hope the court will stay with the position that these funds need to be used for the benefit of older adults across Tennessee," said Janet Jernigan, Executive Director of FiftyForward.

Jernigan said her organization did not even know it could apply for the money until the day before the deadline.

"I think it's the first time we've ever found out about something so important the day before," Jernigan said.

FiftyForward supports programs like Meals on Wheels through its annual budget of $4 million.

Non-profit groups argue it would be more efficient to distribute money to programs that already exist instead of "re-inventing the wheel."

The Attorney General's Office received 26 proposals for the $40 million.

It hired a consultant to help come up with the plan it presented the court.

Chancellor Lyle has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday afternoon in her courtroom.

In a highly unusual move, she appointed "friends of the court" to assist the court in coming up with a plan to distribute this money.

The Attorney General has maintained its proposal is best for all Tennesseans -- including senior citizens.