State fails to spend funds earmarked for poor Tennesseans

Frank CagleFrank Talk

Republican legislators like to complain about federal bureaucrats making laws instead of Congress. Who’s been making your spending decisions, gentlemen and ladies? And who among you approve of a $200 million appropriation for the state being sent to other states instead?

How is it that $1 billion in federal funds intended to help poor Tennesseans get diverted, stashed in an account, or turned back to the federal government to be spent in other states?

Frank Cagle

It’s disturbing that the Comptroller’s office discovered the state Department of Human Services diverted $30 million meant to provide child care so poor people could get a job to another program.

It’s disturbing that the Beacon Center discovered over $700 million dollars in federal funds intended for the poor were stashed away unspent.

It’s disturbing that millions of dollars intended for the state’s poor has been turned back in to the federal government to be spent in other states, according to The Tennessean.

But it is even more disturbing if state bureaucrats can play around with millions of dollars in federal funds without authorization by the legislature and the governor.

Legislators need to make it a top priority this session to determine how such a thing can happen, and to put in safeguards to see that it doesn’t happen again.

The use of child care funds being diverted to the Read to Be Ready program was discovered by the Comptroller’s office. If the literacy program was such a good idea then why didn’t the legislature and the governor’s office fund it? The state has run surpluses year after year and the rainy-day fund contains over $1 billion. It might be understandable to shift money around and cut corners in the event of budget deficits. But not spending money intended to help poor people when state coffers are overflowing with cash is a travesty.

The Tennessean has discovered that the state ignored $214 million in child care money for the poor, allowing the money to go back to the feds to be spent in other states. Add that to over $700 million the Beacon Center discovered being unspent, it means $1 billion that could have been used to make poor Tennesseans lives better wasn’t spent.

Democrats often make the charge that Republicans don’t care about poor people. That usually comes after some yahoo proposes something like drug testing single mothers on food stamps, based on no evidence at all that there is a problem.

Gov. Bill Haslam couldn’t even get a floor vote on a proposal to expand Medicaid to include thousands of the working poor, while rural hospitals are closing. Over $13 billion that could have paid for health care in Tennessee has been spent in other states because Tennessee refused to accept it.

But this latest scandal takes the cake. A special legislative committee is supposed to look into it. I assume The Tennessean isn’t through investigating either. But somebody ought to be ashamed.

Schools and theology: I wonder what would have happened if a Muslim group had asked to take students out of Sterchi school in Knoxville to visit a mosque and study stories from the Koran? I suspect that all hell would break loose. But since an evangelical Christian group proposed it, the school board is actually considering approving continuation of the pilot program that has been operating at Sterchi school.

I hope the opposition to the program by a so-called “satanic” group doesn’t backfire. I understand the point the group is making, but I question the tactics. I’m afraid they may have antagonized the school board and the community. The group makes the valid point that if you allow evangelical Christians to have such a program it is only fair to allow anyone else to do the same.

But I’m afraid people who have concerns about mixing in religious instruction with a public school may be reluctant to join in an alliance with “satanists.”

Life in the comics: When I was young my parents would read “Dagwood and Blondie” to each other. My wife and I shared “Arlo and Janis” for many years. But lately I seem to be showing up in “Pickles.”

Frank Cagle is a former managing editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel.


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