The Tennessee Department of Human Services is under fire for failing to do its job.
A state audit released Thursday blames the department for allowing a LaVergne woman to pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars that was supposed to feed hungry kids. State auditors believe this could have been avoided.
"DHS needs to acknowledge there's a problem here," John Dunn, the spokesman for the state Comptroller's Office said.
DHS has dropped the ball again. This is just the latest example. The audit of the child care food program known as All About Giving blames DHS for allowing the program's CEO LaShane Hayes of LaVergne to essentially help herself to hundreds of thousands of dollars that was supposed to be feeding hungry children.
Hayes received more than $2 million from DHS over two years, and according to the audit, some of that money was spent on an Xbox, a decorative cell phone case, computer games, shoes, perfume as well as hotels in and out of Tennessee.
The audit also found there were repeated cash withdrawals from the program's bank account, sometimes $20,000 and $30,000 at a time, in all totaling nearly $135,000.
And of more than $230,000 spent on purchases, auditors could only find documentation for $19 worth of stamps.
"That's not money that's being used to feed children and that's not right," Dunn told NewsChannel 5 Investigates. Dunn said that didn't have to happen.
As we first reported back in November, All About Giving's director submitted fake reimbursement claims to DHS for child care providers and children that didn't exist, for providing food to child care facilities at addresses like a grassy embankment on Dickerson Pike.
According to the Comptroller's report, state auditors found DHS failed to verify more than 20 of these locations and did not provide oversight or monitoring of the program.
"DHS has a clear responsibility here. It administers this program. It is supposed to monitor its recipients who receive this federal funding. And that job has fallen through the cracks in many instances," Dunn said.
This All About Giving report wasn't the only audit the state just released critical of DHS. In another audit, the Comptroller found fraud in a Memphis-based food program. In all, there have been six separate audits in the last two years that have found taxpayers' money has been misspent because DHS wasn't keeping track of what was going on.
"Isn't that DHS's job?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Senator Jim Tracy.
"Yes! Absolutely!" he emphatically responded.
Tracy was not happy with what's in the report.
"That's not acceptable for this to happen. It's awful," he shared.
The Republican from Shelbyville has for the last two years tried to get DHS to turn things around.
So why do problems like this keep happening?
"That's a very good question. And, I just think for years they'd gotten away with doing that and it's not going to happen any more," Tracy replied.
Senator Tracy said he has been meeting with the new DHS Commissioner Danielle Barnes to make his expectations very clear.
Barnes took over earlier this month replacing former Commissioner Raquel Hatter who resigned.
Now for nearly two years we have repeatedly asked DHS to talk with us about these problems and they have refused to sit down and answer questions. As they did, again when we asked about the All About Giving audit.
In the audit though, DHS administrators did admit that they did not monitor the food program as they should have.