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Audit: A quarter of Utah's needy families return to state assistance within one year

A view of the Utah Capitol where lawmakers are considering implementing an earned income tax credit. Earlier versions of EITC legislation in Utah cost an estimated $25 million because the legislation targeted the entire poverty population. HB57 carries an
FILE - Utah's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program spends more than double the national average on case management to help families become self-sufficient, according to newly released audit.
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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program spends more than most states on case management but doesn't do enough to track its success, according to a newly released audit.

In 2017, Utah's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program spent $98.2 million in state and federal funds. Of that, $18.2 million went toward counselors to help families become self-sufficient — more than double the national average spent on case management, auditors said.

The department currently tracks whether cases are closed due to increases in family income but does not base its success on whether families actually become self-sufficient long term, according to the audit.

"According to the data, one-quarter of families return to state assistance within one year, one-third within three years, and based on our sample review, 60 percent within 10 years," auditors wrote in the report, presented Monday to the Legislative Management Committee.

"Modest income gains will result in a positive case closure, but the metric does not track whether families are achieving DWS' goal of removing families from a cycle of dependence on public assistance," according to the audit.

Auditors also advised the Department of Workforce Services to "use reliable data to guide its … resource allocation process," store contract information electronically in a centralized database, and make sure that contracted programs detail specific purposes, among other recommendations.

Examining contracts for programs funded by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, auditors say they discovered that "many contracts lacked specific and measurable outcomes."

Additionally, the department "did not validate self-reported outcomes by contractors." Because of that, auditors said they could not "evaluate or compare the effectiveness" of most programs contracted by the department.

For example, one contracted after-school program received funding based on its expected average daily attendance. That funding could be cut "if the contractor reported a lower (average daily attendance)," auditors wrote.

"The contractor's midyear report to DWS stated that the program's (average daily attendance) was about half of what was expected. However, (department) staff reported that the contract was not amended to reduce funding," auditors wrote.

In a letter responding to the audit, the Department of Workforce Services agreed with all of the auditors' recommendations.

The department said tracking positive case closures "has helped the department achieve favorable results" but the idea of tracking wages and employment retention of those who leave the program "shows promise."

The department also said it previously identified some of the concerns in an internal audit and new practices are being implemented.