The Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes owe the federal government more than $435,000 after improperly administering low-income home energy assistance funds, a new report said.
The Fort Peck Tribes are disputing some of the findings released in the report issued by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
According to the OIG, the northeast Montana tribes were awarded $4.1 million in Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program funds for fiscal years 2011-2015, the years included in the audit. The federal money is earmarked to help meet the needs of those with the lowest incomes who pay a high proportion of household income for home energy.
Grantees, such as the Fort Peck Tribes, distribute the funds to help recipients meet their home energy costs, intervene in crisis situations and provide low-cost residential weatherization and other energy-related home repairs.
In its audit findings, the OIG said the Fort Peck Tribes “did not administer $436,765 of LIHEAP grant funds for FYs 2011 through 2015 in compliance with federal laws, regulations and guidance.” Specifically, the tribe:
- Inaccurately reported the amount of unobligated grant funds in various reports submitted to the Administration for Children and Families, which distributes the grants, and did not refund unused funds totaling $378,506.
- Made payments totaling $30,621 to beneficiaries whose total income exceeded the tribe’s eligibility limits.
- Did not refund to the federal government $27,638 not used to provide home energy assistance because they were improperly held as credit balances by an energy supplier.
- Submitted required reports that don't meet federal requirements or that were unsupported.
The OIG blamed the errors on the tribes’ lack of “policies and procedures or other internal controls in place to prevent them.”
Of the amount left unobligated during the audit period, in fiscal year 2015 the tribes transferred $218,994 from the LIHEAP account to the general revenue account, the audit said. As of Dec. 31, 2017, the money remained in that account.
Transferring those funds increased the risk that they could be used for other purposes than energy assistance, the report concluded.
In a response to the audit, the Fort Peck Tribes agreed that $30,621 in funding had been paid to ineligible beneficiaries. The tribes disagreed with the inaccurate reporting of the $378,506 in unobligated grant funds and the $27,638 in funds improperly held as credit balances.
The tribes agreed to the need for complete and timely reports. Policies and procedures are being put in place for that to happen, the report said.
The OIG, in a rebuttal, said it used the tribes’ income statements to calculate the correct carryover amounts.
“The spreadsheet that the tribes included with their written comments, which show the unobligated amounts for FYs 2011 and 2013, is incorrect because its calculations included the carryover amounts twice,” the report said.
The OIG commended the Fort Peck Tribes for taking actions to better administer the program. But it maintained that the tribes refund the $378,506 in unobligated funds, the $30,621 in unallowable benefits and the $27,638 in funds improperly held as credit balances.