Originally created 01/30/97

DSS quit payments for shelter



AIKEN - While the state Department of Social Services investigated an emergency children's shelter in Aiken for poor living conditions, the agency fell nearly three months behind in foster care payments owed to the shelter.

Deb Kohler, president of the shelter's board of directors, declined to say whether the late payments contributed to the operations' problems of the shelter.

Marcus Mann, a DSS official, acknowledged that the payments were late and exceeded $30,000, but said the state isn't to blame for the delay.

Ms. Kohler said the shelter is looking for new money sources, such as state grants.

Now, "We're pretty much operating on a month-to-month basis," she said. "We don't have a cash reserve."

On Tuesday, the state DSS released a report citing the shelter for not providing proper care for the children and allowing the shelter to fall into disrepair. Specifically, the report said the children weren't fed enough, lacked proper medical care and weren't being disciplined out of fear that the staff would be reported to Aiken County DSS for child abuse.

The shelter's license was downgraded from standard to temporary. The agency has until Feb. 10 to take a dozen corrective measures or risk losing the license.

In November and December while the state DSS investigated the shelter, United Way of Aiken had to advance the shelter $30,000 to pay bills. The money was owed to Helping Hands by state DSS for sheltering foster care children referred there by Aiken County DSS.

Carol McCormack, United Way president, said state officials provided no clear explanation for the delay. Two other United Way agencies, Coalition to Assist Abused Persons, and Children's Place, also had to be given smaller cash advances during the same period, she said.

"Who knows what the deal was," Ms. McCormack said. "I suppose it was a problem at the state level in general. We got all kinds of lengthy explanations."

One explanation was that the state agency was short-handed during the holidays, she said.

DSS officials confirmed that the agency was short-staffed during the holidays.

But Mr. Mann, assistant director at state DSS for family preservation and child welfare services, said, "That was not the reason why the payments were delayed. (The shelter's board) wanted to redo the budget and ask for more money."

The contract between Helping Hands and the state DSS had to be renegotiated, which caused the delays, he said.

The board got "a little more money," he said, and the contract was rewritten. The revised contract was sent to the board around Nov. 19 and payments were sent to Helping Hands in late December, he said.

Mr. Mann said he wasn't aware of any late payments to CAAP or Children's Place.