by: Richard Belcher Updated:
A Channel 2 investigation has discovered that Georgia could be forced to repay the federal government nearly $15 million because the state has badly mismanaged payments to adoptive parents.
There are no accusations of fraud, but federal inspectors called the state's hand on the over-payments.
Channel 2's investigation showed Georgia's record is one of the worst in the country.
Felicia Brown is a senior at M.L. King
High School in DeKalb County. She's a star on the track team and she's going to the University of Tennessee on a track scholarship this fall.
Brown is also a one-time foster child who was adopted 15 years ago.
"Sometimes I tell people, my friends, I was adopted and they're like 'Oh, my God. You don't know your real parents?' and I'm like 'These are my real parents,'" Felicia said.
Suzette Brown and her husband adopted eight children who were in foster care. Felicia is one of them.
The State Department of Human Services gives the Browns
$436 a month to help support Felicia. About 65 percent of that is federal money.
"It's really not enough to parent any child, but it helps," Suzette Brown said.
This year, the state of Georgia will spend $79 million on payments to parents who've adopted foster children.
To families like the Browns, the program is a godsend. But Georgia's program has been among the worst-managed in the country. 70 percent of the sampled cases in Georgia had some kind of error.
According to an
inspector general's report, Georgia can't fully account for nearly $24 million in adoption payments.
Because most of that came from Washington, that means Georgia may have to repay Washington nearly $15 million.
State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver is an expert on child protection issues.
"This is a huge amount of money that the federal audit is targeting," Oliver told Channel 2's Richard Belcher.
She told Belcher this isn't about fraud, but rather, sloppiness.
"The feds object to the state of Georgia's shredding policy. They didn't retain records long enough," Oliver said.
The audit said the errors took place while B.J. Walker was
commissioner of human services.
The current commissioner, Clyde Reese, declined to be interviewed because the state is still trying to answer enough of Washington's questions to cut that potential $15 million repayment.
The chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, Sharon Cooper, told Belcher the old Department of Human Resources was badly managed.
"And people were not doing their jobs. And I can tell you that Mr.
Reese is one of the best public servants and employees that we have ever had, and if anybody can clear it up, he'll get it cleared up," Cooper said.
Like Cooper, Suzette Brown knows that sloppy bookkeeping can lead to waste, or worse, in a program she believes is vital.
Brown had a message for parents who may be faced with an opportunity to cheat the system.
"If you don't have kids in your home, think about if you return that money, where that money could be used for another child. So, honestly, what the families need to do is help the state out," Brown said.
Cooper said DHS hopes to be able document most of the nearly $25 million that's now in dispute.
But until there is a final number, DHS doesn't want to answer Channel 2's questions.