A government that is allowed to operate without regularly being held accountable for its decisions is bound to become impervious to the will of the people. Missourians deserve a transparent government that responds to their needs and uses its resources wisely. To this end, the House developed the Improving Government Responsiveness and Efficiency Interim Committee, which has been tasked with fostering openness and efficiency in our state departments.
When the committee held its first hearings on July 22 and 23, I also added improving accountability to the committee’s goals. As our hearings move forward, the committee will remain dedicated to improving government responsiveness, accountability, and efficiency.
This week, the committee heard testimony from the Department of Social Services on child abuse investigations and records, mismanaged spending on childcare facilities, erroneous food stamp payments, and changes made to DSS’ contract that allowed PCG, a private company, to move able-bodied Missourians onto disability payments.
A recent audit found that DSS allocated $170,000 to childcare facilities that failed to expand or develop as planned. The department is filing cases against two of the facilities with the Attorney General’s office to recoup the payments. DSS’ struggle to retrieve misused tax dollars clearly demonstrates the danger of the “pay and chase” investigation model. Missourians should not have to fund projects that are never completed and then pay even more to chase down the wasted money.
Committee members also vigorously questioned officials on the department’s contract with PCG. The original contract allowed the company to cold call Missourians in an attempt to move Medicaid recipients, including children and able-bodied adults, to federal disability payments. After an investigation during session, DSS agreed to amend the contract, but I believe legislators need to be regularly updated on the changes being implemented to ensure that the department keeps its promises.
Yet, the hearing was not just about wasted funds, but also focused on child safety. A Springfield man testified about his struggle to have his grandchildren removed from an abusive home. DSS Acting Director Brian Kinkade encouraged anyone with suspicions of child abuse or neglect to call DSS’ hotline at 1-800-392-3738 or to call 911 if the child is in immediate danger. Doctors are also mandated reporters of child abuse, so taking an abused child to the Emergency Room or doctor’s office can prompt an investigation.
To prevent another tragedy like the death of four-year-old Lucas Webb, DSS must properly investigate every child abuse claim, and we must all do our part by immediately alerting the proper authorities of any children in danger.
As a follow up to the committee’s inquiries, Vice-Chair of the House Budget Committee Representative Tom Flanigan and I visited DSS’ Cole County Family Support Division Office. We met with the Cole County Manager and an Eligibility Specialist Supervisor to learn about the welfare application process from those who handle cases on a daily basis.
Visiting the office and viewing the applications for various programs gave us a better sense of how the department really operates, which will help us ask more specific questions at the next committee hearing. For example, workers informed us that applicants are not automatically disqualified from receiving benefits if they submit incorrect eligibility information.
At the next committee hearing in August, we will continue delving into DSS’ actions and bring in officials from other departments to testify. By the end of interim, I hope the committee will be able to propose meaningful reforms for various departments and programs that will make them more accountable and beneficial to the people of Missouri.