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    Independent auditor probes spending of welfare dollars

    AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s independent auditor is questioning whether the state is ensuring that federal funding for low-income individuals is spent in line with the law.

    State Auditor Pola Buckley last month submitted the annual audit to lawmakers.

    The latest audit echoes Buckley’s past concerns that it’s possible Temporary Assistance for Needy Families dollars are improperly being spent on “ineligible groups” because state oversight is lax. Maine awarded $29.5 million of such funding to 49 contractors in fiscal year 2018.

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    That federal money is meant to help low-income families but states have some flexibility to use such dollars, including to prevent out-of-wedlock pregnancies in general.

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    The Department of Health and Human Services disagreed with Buckley’s latest finding and said it didn’t have enough time to immediately track down evidence of such oversight.

    It said it’s since found required performance reports sought by her office.

    “We are confident given time we could find more,” said the agency.

    Buckley’s office said it began requesting documents in mid-January, and that the department would also have to prove it was monitoring groups running federally funded programs.

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    Maine received a total $3.1 billion in federal assistance in the fiscal year ending in mid-2018, according to the audit.

    The audit also highlighted 97 delayed cases of potential fraud by Medicaid providers that were opened between fiscal years 2015 and 2017 and remained open in mid-2018. Twelve out of 60 sampled cases had no evidence of review by supervisors, according to the audit.

    Such delays could mean fraud or abuse will remain undetected, warned the audit, which recommended that the department improve its review of open cases. The audit cited staff turnover and lack of staff resources as causes of such delays.

    The department also disagreed with that finding and said the auditor’s listed concerns were “opinions.”

    The auditor said the Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for preventing excessive Medicaid payments.

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    “Allowing cases to remain open and inactive for extended periods of time (209 to 1059 days) and not properly documenting actions and oversight increase the likelihood of excessive payments and unnecessary or inappropriate utilization of care and services going undetected,” reads the audit.